March 10 2020 09:30 AM

Dairy’s opponents are vocal and very personal. We need to be the same.

My own Kindergarten class took a field trip to our farm many years ago. With today’s technology, we can make sure even the farthest classrooms from a farm can learn about how we care for our cows.

Sometimes it feels like every headline I see is so far-fetched and irrelevant to my daily life that I wonder if I’m the weird one. Adding to the confusion, lately there’s been an unfounded accusation about dairy thrown in there to make it truly feel like a personal attack. I work for dairy farmers. My parents are dairy farmers. I truly believe in the goodness of dairy. But am I doing enough to support our industry? Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am. And then, at the exact moment I didn’t know I needed it, I get a jolt of encouragement and reassurance.

That jolt came last week. I was surrounded by dairy farmers, elementary school students, educators, and nutritionists. While the dairy farmers acknowledged their struggles and uncertainties, their perseverance and passion was unmistakable. They answered questions, even the tough ones, with candor. I also realized I don’t think I’ve ever met a farmer without a sense of humor.

The elementary school students were attentive, adorable, and so full of joy. They wore cow faces on their heads and sang a song they had written about the calf they had “adopted” through a dairy in the classroom program. There wasn’t a face in the room without a smile; children have a way of doing that.

The educators were sincere. They read the news, too, and wanted to know how dairy farms really operate and how cows are cared for. They know their students rely on them as a source of knowledge and truth. They eagerly asked the dairy farmers questions.

The nutritionists base their principles on substantiated science. They want the children to be nourished so they can develop and prosper. They know that milk fundamentally supports a healthy diet. The educators turn to them, too, as a resource so they want to make sure they understand our industry from the farm side as well.

That jolt was powerful and full of hope. It was a reminder that most of the people around us are more like us than they are different. It showed that people have questions and genuine interest. They want to ask a farmer; they want to know from the source. If I’m not proactively telling my neighbors I can answer their farm questions, then they will have no choice but to turn to Google. So, no, I haven’t been doing enough. My son’s classmates haven’t received cow headbands and adopted a cow. And it’s my fault. Even off the farm, I have a duty to this industry and the cows that I love wholeheartedly. It’s time I started to do more. They made it personal. So I should, too.

Erin Massey

Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is re-sponsible 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."