If I encounter dairy producers who are hesitant to do an interview because they don’t think they have anything noteworthy to share, I always tell them everyone has a story to tell. It’s true. Each person’s experience has a different spin, an interesting twist or a unique perspective. To some it may not be apparent at first, but it’s there. Everyone has a story.
My story for over 13.5 years has been working for Dairy Star. While my title has changed a few times, the core focus of my job has stayed the same – find and write stories about dairy farmers in my area. The twist on my story? I have connected with and created friendships with more people than I ever could have imagined. The dairy community is truly amazing. While I have loved getting to know so many people, the time has come for my story at the paper to end as I move on to the next role in my career.
It started the fall of 2007 when Mark Klaphake called me, wondering if I would do a bit of freelance writing for the paper. I remember talking to him for the first time while sitting on a picnic table by the food alley during an unseasonably hot World Dairy Expo. Only a few months fresh out of college, I gladly took the chance to gain more writing experience. I felt excited to be able to put my writing skills to use within an industry I love. While excited, I was also nervous to put my work out there for thousands of people to read. The information-gathering process and writing of those first two stories were a bit rough. Only a few hours before deadline, I stared at my screen writing and rewriting a simple lead. Thankfully, adrenaline kicked in and I finished the story on time.
Over the next few months, my nerves settled down and I started to find a rhythm to the process. By March 2008, Dairy Star offered me a full-time position. From there, I settled into my role for the publication, and became familiar with the back roads while traveling to farms in southeast Minnesota, and at times in western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. The landscape always provided beautiful scenery for the drive – from cozy fall colors and the sun glistening off the winter snow to corn popping through the ground in the spring and the blur of tractors chopping a third crop in midsummer.
While the drives were nice, what I looked forward to most was meeting with the producers on their farms and learning more about their dairies. I am so thankful for all the dairy farmers who have welcomed me to their farms and given me the opportunity to have a glimpse at daily life. I could not imagine a friendlier community. I sat at kitchen tables and stood around bulk tanks for interviews. I walked through freestall barns and rode on side-by-sides through pastures to get pictures. I have been offered lunch, snacks and cookies, and invited to midmorning coffee breaks while sitting on pails in the parlor.
I gained a lot of knowledge about important on-farm management practices, but what I learned most about dairy farming came from the characteristics of people. I heard creative minds find ways to diversify their farms and forward-thinkers plan for a transition. Most of them were resourceful, using what they had while being conscious of the environment around them. Some farmers shared their pastimes of things like hunting or coaching sports teams. Other producers opened their hearts to share stories of loss, whether their dairying livelihood due to fire or storm, or family members or friends to illness or accident. Most times I could feel the raw emotion or the energetic enthusiasm for the topic of discussion.
Most of all, the dairy farmers I met chose their career because they love it despite long days and sometimes doing underappreciated tasks. But dairy farmers’ dedication to caring for their cows and keeping their dairy farms going seven days a week is what created this paper, along with wanting to build a stronger dairy community.
Thank you to all the dairy farmers I met who trusted me with your story and allowed me to share it. I feel honored. I am also grateful for all the industry members I met along the way who shared insights with me. I have learned so much. And to my coworkers, thanks for making it seem as if I was putting the paper together with friends. You have made the last 13.5 years fun.
Over one-third of my life has been dedicated to Dairy Star. It’s hard to think of my life without it. While it is bittersweet to say goodbye, I am looking forward to a new challenge while still dabbling in the industry. Thanks for all the memories, and keep continuing to share your story.