July 31 2020 09:45 AM

In the dairy industry, who you know is just as important as what you know.

My family went on their first vacation to visit a friend in California last spring. It was the first time in 18 years that my parents had left the farm for more than a long weekend outside of driving distance.

Now, most people would say that a California vacation provides a great opportunity to sit on the beach, go swimming, and relax away from all things farming. My family, however, filled the week with farm tours and visiting dairy farmers. They connected with old friends, met new people, spent a little time on the beach, and had a great vacation, but they didn’t stop being dairy farmers for the week.

Dairy farming isn’t just what we do, it’s a part of who we are. Sometimes the lack of differentiation is good, sometimes it's not, but regardless of the connotation, it creates a warm, welcoming community rooted in dairy.

Recently, a work phone call led me to connect with someone who grew up in my less-than-well-known hometown. Then, an interview for an article brought me together with a peer, and we discovered that we shared a mutual connection.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I had an internship that allowed me to travel across the country and back a multitude of times. This quest helped me to meet leaders in the dairy community of every state that I visited, and I tried my best to learn from each one. Those encounters really showed me how close-knit the dairy industry is. Recently, I reconnected with a family that I met that first summer, and I’ve been very thankful for their friendship.

Experiences like these bring us closer together, and they give us a sense of community. It is one of the unique things that I love about the dairy industry.

If you’re involved in agriculture, you know just as well as I do that six degrees of separation becomes three (or less) when less than 2% of the U.S. population is directly involved with your industry.

Lately, I have been appreciating the closeness of the dairy community more and more. As I move toward my senior year, I realize just how much my college experiences have improved my network. Professors at Cornell will often say “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and that phrase becomes more applicable every day.

In a time when isolation and “social distancing” are imperative, it is comforting to have camaraderie within our industry. I am finding myself longing for the days when I can meet someone, shake their hand, and have a face-to-face conversation. But until we can do those things safely, I will find comfort from being immersed in an industry that welcomes connection with open arms.

Abbie Cox

Abbie Cox grew up in Cato, N.Y. on a first-generation dairy farm and currently attends Cornell University as a member of the class of 2021, ma-joring in animal science with a minor in education and a focus in dairy. On campus, she is involved with the Cornell Uni-versity Dairy Science Club, Sigma Alpha, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and is a Peer Adviser with CALS Student Services. Cox has interned with the MILC group, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and is the 2020 Hoard’s Dairyman summer editorial intern.