So this Milkmaid walks into a bar….
One of the best things about being a farmer is being able to make your way of life the way you make your living, and usually that means being able to call home your workplace. That’s also one of the downsides to being a farmer: when you don’t get off the farm much you don’t really get to talk with folks…you know, the folks that don’t trip over semen tanks, keep tow chains and bags of seed corn in their trucks, or treat sunrise as the halfway mark of their day. When you don’t talk to THOSE folks they don’t get to know you and they certainly don’t stand a chance of understanding what it’s really like to be a farmer. That’s why it’s not only important to get off the farm but also make the most of those off farm adventures.
It’s not every day that a dairy farmer finds herself in Washington, D.C. but when she does she makes the most of it…so when this Milkmaid walks into the hotel bar around 11pm she may not be looking for an opportunity, but she is ready. It always starts the same way, with that simple question, “So, what do you do?” and things will really get started when you say, “I’m a dairy farmer. Did you get your milk today?”
9 times out of 10 the person who finds out you’re a dairy farmer is going to be pretty impressed-they’re going to look at you like you have two heads and come from a different planet, but deep down they are impressed because chances are you are the FIRST dairy farmer they have ever met. In the course of one day of travel from Portland, Maine to D.C. the topic came up at least 5 times, whether it be on a shuttle bus, a taxi, a plane, a bar (F.Y.I.there is more than 1 bar in D.C.) or the hotel lobby, and each time the response was a little amazement, a little surprise and a lot of respect. But it’s never good to rest on your laurels…or in this case the favourable, bucolic image that can simultaneously make you look good and still tie you down. So once the oohs and ahhs have subsided the conversation NEEDS to begin. These are the kind of moments that you can’t buy: someone WANTS to hear you tell them why your family farm is such a great asset to its community; why your family farm is hell bent on caring for your animals and the land; why the milk your cows produce is some of the highest quality, safest and most nutritious out there. This is one of those perfect, golden opportunities that only happens when you step off that farm and engage the person who doesn’t know a thing about you or your farm.
And it is not as hard as you would think…you just have to be you. Moments after the shock and awe of the whole “I am a dairy farmer” proclamation wore off the conversation got real easy and within the next 30 minutes everything from GMOs, hormones, Arsenic, Antibiotics, ‘Bama’s AMAZING football program, OSU (“they’ve got a great marching band” is my normal comment-it does not endear me to the Scarlett & Gray crowd, ROLL TIDE!), Bill Gates, and Chipotle comes up and culminates with “I want my milk. Please tell me I can drink my milk and I can tell my wife I can drink my milk. I love my wife but I don’t like the coconut, soy stuff she makes me drink for my health.” Seriously. Here he is. John Q. Public asking YOU to tell him why to ditch non dairy. Now there’s an opportunity that doesn’t happen in the calf barn or in the parlour. See, this is EXACTLY the reason a Milkmaid SHOULD walk into a bar.
So it begins…it’s not a sales spiel. It’s not even propaganda. It’s just you talking about how much you love what you do. How much you care for your cows and land. How you’re a farmer and your business IS sustainability, environmental stewardship, animal care and that quality, the environment and happy cows are your bottom line. It won’t take all night. It won’t even cause you to break a sweat because all you’re doing is sharing your story with someone who really wants to know and it’s YOUR story. If you don’t, someone else will and they may not know the REAL story, and they may not even care about you. So whether you are sitting on a bus or waiting for the plane to take off; or maybe you are in the dairy section of your local grocer- there’s your chance. Soon it becomes habit and you don’t even wait for the stranger to ask you what you do for a living or “what brings you to <insert Big City Name here>?” . You become THAT farmer who approaches the mum reaching in to the dairy case for a gallon of YOUR milk and you say “Hi. I’m the dairy farmer who helped make that milk and I wanted to thank you for supporting your local family farm!” (Please Note: Your teenage daughter will be behind you slightly in awe of you and almost completely embarrassed). It’s that easy. But, the talking and the telling your story is the easy part…getting off the farm, getting away from “the office”…that’s the hard part. Then again, if being a dairy farmer was easy everybody would be one so what are you waiting for? …and who knows? That poor OSU fan who wants to ditch non-dairy might even buy you a glass of wine…somebody has to support the wine farmers too.