When I joined DBA three years ago next month, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of dairy farming.
Although I did not grow up on a farm, as a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, I knew the state’s sights, smells and tastes. But as the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
As it turns out, there was plenty I didn’t know about the dairy community in our state. What I’ve learned is that we have a great story to tell, particularly about the people who drive this uniquely Wisconsin industry and culture. The story centers on values.
Here are three of my revelations:
I grew up in the relatively small community of Prairie du Chien in southwestern Wisconsin. There was plenty of farmland around and I had friends who lived on farms so I wasn’t completely in the dark.
But what I didn’t see was the spider web that links so many people, businesses and processes to dairy farming. Truck drivers, cheese plants, grocers and restaurants. Colleges, scientists, genetics companies and feed mills. Lenders, insurers, engineers and builders. The list goes on. Our history is tied to dairy, and our economy is as well.
I realize that fewer and fewer people nationwide have a direct connection to farming, but if you live in Wisconsin you don’t have to look far to see the thread.
Meeting new people has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I have been on numerous dairies to help farmers talk about themselves and their farms.
The family dynamic jumps out at me. It’s typical to see family members of all ages playing a role. I can relate to this having worked alongside my father and brothers in a family-owned construction business during summers up through college.
Working with your family is unique. Squabbles are inevitable, but there is a sense of having each other’s backs because you understand that success will only come collectively. The fabric of farm families is woven tightly.
Motivational speakers will refer to “being at your best when things are at their worst.”
All of us face challenges and we all respond differently. What strikes me about farmers is that they expect and prepare for challenges. In a dangerous occupation and with much of their success at the whims of Mother Nature, they persevere.
Resiliency seems to be in farmers’ DNA.
These are the sorts of values that link the dairy community to non-farming residents, the broader community and customers. Showing people who you are and what you are about — in one-on-one conversations, on social media, talking to government officials and through other ways — resonates more than what you do.
We cannot assume that people outside of agriculture are aware. Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know.
How to get started:
Write a values story. Imagine that you have been asked to explain what you do. Some of the nuts and bolts need to be there but focus mainly on who you are and what motivates you. That’s what will make the connection.