Here’s how impactful dairying has been on my life. Even my birth announcement was made on the family’s farm sign.
My parents have not had good luck with Mother Nature in recent years. In 2016, Hurricane Irma destroyed six of their barns. Just a few days ago a tornado ripped through the farm.
On the bright side, they have a strong network and community around them to help pick up the pieces, friends and strangers included. When I think about the support they have received, it makes me further believe that people still trust the farmer. As the reporters interview my dad and the cameras show the devastation, you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice: he’s a hard-working man that just wants to make a living.
Outside of the weather, my dad mentions that the dairy business itself has not been sustainable. He has just been hanging on, hoping something will give. And now, he does not have much left to hold onto. Funneling more retirement money to keep a farm in operation is just not sensible. My parents, like many others, are now forced to confront the future of their farm.
As this has weighed heavily on my mind, it led me to think more about the ripple effect of a dairy farmer’s career. When one chooses to be a farmer, that choice also dictates their entire lifestyle. Their children and spouse become farmers. Their friends and community hold them in high regard as farmers. Dairy farmer is not only their job title; it is their identity.
As we all know, dairy farming does not leave much time for hobbies. So what do you do when all you’ve known and habitually done for decades is no longer there? Most people view retirement as an exciting choice to be made after years of intentional preparation and planning: when they are ready and on their terms. For many dairy farmers that have left the industry in recent times, I know it wasn’t the happy ending they envisioned. Many are having to completely reconfigure their lives and futures.
The number of dairy farmers in this country may be shrinking, but that does not mean their impact has to. We just have to help them make bigger waves. While most people no longer know a farmer as a neighbor, we need them to know dairy farmers as people they can continue to trust. We need them to know our stories, to relate to our wins and our struggles, to feel connected to those that feed them. Once a dairy farmer, always a dairy farmer. That’s a title to be proud of and an identity worth celebrating. Whether on or off the farm, our work is never done. We are defined by dairy and promoting what we produce will always be our duty.
Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."