Monday, November 28, 2016

Passion becomes a Career

My love for cows and farming runs deep.  A good friend of mine told me that I was the most "dairy-centric" person he knew, and I took that to heart.  I am not currently farming but love of dairy farming has only strengthened.  A few months ago I was presented with the opportunity to apply for a new job, a potential long term career, working for the dairy farmers of Minnesota.  I took the chance and applied and it is with great joy that I start today on my first day as the Industry Relations Program Manager at Midwest Dairy Association/Minnesota Milk Producers.  This job is really the sum of my passion put into a career, one I can definitely see myself doing long term as long as I don't let Minnesota farmers down.  This new job not only is my passion wrapped up into a career but it is also the sum of so many small choices made over my lifetime.  I can see God's hand in the road that I have traveled to get to this place, and I can see his plan coming to light. 

I look back to the moment I made the choice to be a county dairy ambassador at 15 years old.  I remember the choice to attend college at South Dakota State University where I would encounter one of the greatest professors I would ever know, Dr. Arnold Hippen.  I remember 2002 as a finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, an opportunity of a lifetime to represent my county and the dairy farmers of Minnesota.  I remember my choice to go into dairy farming with a full heart after graduation and the first few pictures I posted on Facebook of new calves or field work.  I remember Sherry Newell reaching out to me to ask me to start posting some short blogs for a summer series for Midwest Dairy Association.  I was so excited for the opportunity to reach a larger audience!  Following that summer, Sherry encouraged me to take it one step further, "How about you start a blog?"  In 2009 I started this little blog, took advantage of every training opportunity I could get, and you have this, my own little outlet to the world.  Every step of the way I took a small chance in making what seemed like a small decision, which brought me to this place.  From the people that I met: my dairy woman strong role models including my best friend Annie, my roommates and classmates from college, my peers Carrie and Laura, and countless others who have been instrumental on this journey.  Each one gave me a little bit of encouragement and a pat on the back to keep on going.  Each risk followed God's plan to make good choices and put me where I belong.  Yes, I absolutely lost faith in his plan several times and I became full of anxiety and discouragement but I stayed the course (even when I went off course) and here I am with this exciting news!!!

I still don't know my final destination or where this journey may take me but I have faith that if I keep making these small choices to do God's will, I know it will be a beautiful ride, with amazing people and experiences!  I have so much gratitude for everyone that helped me get to this place!  The positive feedback from everyone has been overwhelming and I hope that I won't let you down! Wish me well, I'm off to help grow the Minnesota Dairy community in any way that I can! Go Dairy!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks for Suffering

Tomorrow we will sit around tables filled with delicious food, surrounded by family and friends.  We will count our blessings and give thanks.  Tonight at mass, Father talked about counting our blessings.  The gospel included the story of the 10 lepers which Jesus healed and only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for his healing.  While we sat in the pews and thought about our blessings I couldn't help but drift into thinking about being grateful for my sufferings.  Some day I hope to be able to write about my sufferings here but for now I will summarize it as a heavy, broken heart. I am on the other side of my suffering and I can speak with confidence that there is healing and growth on the other side of suffering. 

We talk about strength when we face hard times.  Dairy farming is full of hard times, difficult times, challenging times, but life is harder.  Dairy farming creates people who are determined, persistent, resilient, tough, passionate and strong, but I would argue that strength is more than these.  Strength found in suffering, which is the result of growth from the hard times and heartbreak, is vulnerability.   It is compassion, kindness, and honesty.  When I look back on my suffering, I am grateful for this growth that created the ability to be vulnerable.  Being strong all of the time is hard and it can be cold.  Being vulnerable is harder than being strong because it is real and you have to feel everything.  The sadness is sadder and the happiness is happier, but that's the benefit, it is real. I look back on my sufferings, and there were some very dark days. 

I chose to lean into the feelings and be completely vulnerable.  I was vulnerable to the people that hurt me and I was vulnerable with God.  I made my confessions many times, working hard to forgive myself, but when I look back, the biggest healing came from being vulnerable.  I am so grateful for this suffering.  If given the chance to live my life over again, I would do my suffering over again.  Sure I would make different choices to avoid hurting people I love but I know the end result would be the same.  If I hadn't leaned into the heart ache then I wouldn't have grown in the ways that I am today.  I am thankful for the suffering, for my compassion, for my honesty, and for my vulnerability.  It makes me real and it helps me live life to its fullest.  Here I sit, reflecting on Thanksgiving, knowing if it wasn't for the suffering, I wouldn't have my second chances either, to live life to the fullest with the deepest love possible.  Thankful and Blessed :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Don’t be Afraid to get into the Picture

This weekend I had the opportunity to do some photography for friends and family.  I made the leap to invest in a camera that I know I will really enjoy for the years to come.  Since my 4-H years, photography has been a great pastime of mine.  If you stop by my home, my walls are covered with my favorite pictures of family, friends, and my favorite places.  During my adventures this weekend I had an adorable 9-year-old amateur photographer-in-training with me; she would like to be called a paparazzo.  I let my paparazzo take my camera and go to town taking her own pictures.  My paparazzo stopped and asked me to get into the pictures she was taking.  I hesitated.  I didn’t want my picture taken.  First, I was dirty.  We had been walking down field roads all morning on our journey and I was covered in dust.  Secondly, I was wearing a scrubby t-shirt and some super short running shorts, but those things are so darn comfortable.  And finally, I am always hesitant to get into pictures because I will find something wrong with how I look, my weight, my angles, my curves, my muffin top, my wrinkles, my sun spots, my list could go on and on.  But who am I to say no to this adorable, insistent 9-year-old paparazzo.  I couldn’t say no, she wouldn't let me.  I couldn't let her down.  

I hopped into the pictures and I did what she told me to do.  I wasn’t certain that she was getting my good side or not and I was a little shy about it at first, but she was just thrilled to have me participate in her creative process.  We did some funny shots, we did some serious shots, and we had a blast making memories.  This was not my usual place.  When I am out taking pictures I take pictures of other people, I seldom take pictures of myself, other than the usual Snapchat selfie on the farm or at work.  Pictures make me feel self-conscious, especially about my body type.  I have struggled with my body type and image for as long as I can remember, that’s an honest statement.    God made me to be a beefy, strong woman, not a delicate, petite one.  I know that I am more confident that I have ever been but I still have days where I feel exposed or vulnerable about how I look.  I feel like a 6 on most days rather than the 10 I know God wants me to be.  I want to be known for my brains and personality rather than my appearance.  Am I beautiful?  Yes I am.  But on those days when I am feeling low, I let all of the little things about myself that are not quite perfect bother me more than seeing the positives overall about myself.  I tell myself I’ll take pictures again when I lose 10 pounds or get my hair to look perfect.  
Floored, that this is how my paparazzo sees me, for all my good things!

My little paparazzo took me out of comfort zone and I am so grateful for that!  Because, when I took a look at the pictures she had taken, absolutely there were some that I didn’t like and made me feel insecure and vulnerable but there were also some amazing pictures that I LOVED!  She captured my smile, my personality, and actually…she captured how she sees me.  I was completely floored and honored that this girl could do so much for my self-esteem in such a short afternoon.  Children don’t care about your muffin tops or your wrinkles, they care about you being there with them, in the present.  They want you to be confident in who you are and what you represent as a human, as a woman.  Children just need you to be your beautiful self.  Be confident, be vulnerable, be beautiful, and for Pete’s sakes….get yourself into those pictures with those kids and make some memories!  Those memories will last forever and your children will have a memento to last a lifetime!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Happy People First, then Happy Cows

The Dairy Community has been preaching for years about how we put the cows first.  We have done amazing things on our farms making sure our cows and their well-being come first, but there is a personal consequence for this: marriages, families, friendships, mental health, and so much more.  As a dairy community we need to make sure we put people first, then the cows, because if it wasn’t for the people we wouldn’t have the cows.  More important are the selfless owners/farmers/managers of these dairies.  So many stories have been popping up in my newsfeed of dairy farm families in so much hurt, sacrificing everything they have for their cows, but losing so much of what makes life worth living. 

Wonderful women are sharing heart breaking stories about how they are doing it all.  They are taking care of their kids, milking cows, managing employees, pulling extra milking shifts, driving tractor, taking care of harvest meals for their husbands, cleaning their house and at the end of the day they feel guilty that they didn’t do enough.  They didn’t make the fancy crafts with their kids, they didn’t deep clean their fridge, they missed a night out with the girls, all for the sake of the cows.  These women wear their sacrifices like a badge of honor on their sleeves but show the signs of being drained and destroyed.  Just the thought of doing something for self-care, like an hour to take a bath, enjoy a book, or spend some prayer time immediately spawns feelings of guilt and selfishness.  Some of these women even cast judgement on others who do take time for themselves and let something else in life slip.  Ladies, we are not in competition with each other!  Stop it right now!  There is no pride in cleaning your house instead of spending time with your kids.  There is no pride in working yourself to a thread all for the last 5 pounds of milk.  There is so much more to life than cows and milk production.  We can’t do it all and we shouldn’t.

Humans were meant to be in community with each other and help each other.  If you’re a spiritual person, you know we were meant to need something other than people and ourselves, we need God.  We were not meant to be independent, but interdependent.  Ask someone for help, share responsibility with your husband.  Take an oxygen mask ladies and help yourself out.  If you don’t take care of yourself first then how can you possibly take care of anyone else?  And men do this too! (but they aren’t willing to talk about it because heaven forbid they sacrifice their male pride)  I will never forget the relief I felt when a friend shared with me that she was hiring a housekeeper to clean her house 4 times a year! Wow! Did I ever feel better about my dirty house after that!  Or when I discovered that a family made the choice to play with their kids instead of chopping silage on a Sunday.

Personally, I did it.  I tried to do it all.  I tried to be the farm manager, herdsman, calf feeder, heifer breeder, accountant, the HR manager, the social media specialist, all for the cows and the last 5 pounds of milk.  Was I successful?  You know I was, I’m determined.  Did my cows come first? Definitely! But what did I lose?  I lost my marriage, I lost my sanity, I lost my health, I lost myself.  My friends tried to hand me an oxygen mask but I didn’t take it.  I didn’t take it until I hit rock bottom.  It was then I realized how much I was missing out and how much more I could accomplish if I just took even one hour a day for myself.  If I said no to some activities and volunteer work.  If I let employees do their jobs and trust them to do their jobs.  I made time for God, for exercise, for reading.  I made time for family and friends.  My own niece was scared of me because I spent so little time with her.  My house was a mess, I lost our farm, but I salvaged what was left of me and rebuilt what I have now become.  Ladies, please do yourself a favor and take the oxygen mask!  There is no pride in working yourself to death!  Do something for yourself, take a nap, spend some time just playing and laughing with your kids.  Call a friend for coffee and help.  You matter! Because at the end of the day there will be no cows and no farm if it wasn’t for you and your drive and passion.  And gentlemen, please take note as well, because you matter too!  Ask for help and take care of yourselves!  I’m cheering for you!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Battle of the "-free's"

There has been much discussion lately about various pulls from consumers for "antibiotic-free", "rBST-free", "GMO-free", and whatever kind of "-free" you can come up with.  Whether grounded in science or not, these demands from consumers are becoming increasingly louder and more prevalent.  If you ask me, it is the result of social media and companies capitalizing on fear marketing, but my opinion doesn't matter, at least not yet.  I have had several conversations with various farmers over the past few weeks that are facing some serious demands by the processors that they sell their milk to.  While most processing companies are dairy farmer owned and a board of dairy farmers serve and lead those companies, consumers and marketing are now in the driver's seat for the products and quality that farmers must produce.  Rather than premiums being paid for higher quality products dairy farmers are being asked to make changes on their farms or be forced to take a penalty for their milk.  Let me provide a couple "real life" examples of the costs that a dairy farmer faces with these challenges.

One cooperative is forcing its farmers to produce milk with lower bacteria counts and not use any chemicals or cleaners on farm that contain a certain chemical in order to meet the demands of their foreign export markets.  In order to avoid this chemical, dairy farmers now have to buy more expensive cleaners from a smaller pool of possible choices.  In order to lower their bacteria counts, milking equipment has been upgraded, which is also expensive.  Those dairy farmers do not see a pay increase for their milk, it is just another hoop that they jump through in order to have a market to sell milk to.  Is that the price they pay to have a market to sell to? It appears that way.  Were these changes good for the farmer?  Most were, but they were expensive at a time when milk prices are low.  Did the farmer get paid more for their milk because of the benchmarks met? No.  Most people resist change, dairy farmers are no different, but the milk produced from these farms is no safer than the milk they produced last year, before these changes.  They just jumped through another hoop, spent some more money and didn't get paid any more for their efforts, however they did appease the standards to ship dairy products abroad.

Another couple of cooperatives are discussing only buying milk from dairy farms that do not use rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin).  In several states already (Michigan for example) this is already commonplace.  rBST is a growth hormone used to increase metabolism activity and feed efficiency in dairy cows.  rBST has decades of research proving that there is no difference between milk that comes from a treated cow and milk from a non-treated cow, however there is an implied understanding from consumers that any added hormones are bad.  I will note that as a dairywoman I did not use rBST and found I was better off without it BUT I do see a place for it on our farms.  I see where it can help a farmer keep a cow healthy and productive.  I also see where it helps a farmer be more efficient converting feed into milk (which is really good for our environment!).  rBST is another tool that is available to dairy farmers to help them do what's best for their cows, their families and their resources.  Eliminating rBST from the toolbox is fine but again there is no premium paid to the dairy farmers for having one less tool to use.  Instead these farmers will have to spend money increasing their management and care of their cows to hopefully recoup the lost milk production and efficiency.  These farmers will also potentially have to sell cows for slaughter that they would have been able to keep with the aid of rBST.  I know with the advancement of management skills and facilities rBST is becoming increasingly outdated, but to completely remove it from the toolbox does have me concerned.  Yet another hoop to be jumped through with no premium paid to the dairy farmer to make those changes.  Farmers are forced to keep swallowing the costs instead. 

My proposal: let's meet in the middle.  Consumers have concerns and dairy farmers have costs to make those changes.  Admittedly some dairy farmers won't change, there's always someone like that.  I know as a dairy farmer I would have no problem meeting those demands as long as we can reach agreements that make sense for everyone involved.  I want a future market for milk because I want another generation of dairy farmers. I want to be able to send our dairy products to foreign countries and reach consumers who have never had dairy products before.  But I also want changes in standards and benchmarks to make sense for the dairy farm families involved.  Right now, with record low milk prices yet again, these challenges are a hard sell to farmers.  Consumers want transparency and believe it or not dairy farmers want to give that transparency.  We're proud of what we do every day and we love the milk that we produce and the cows that we care for.  Just ask us!!  Instead of battling each other over the "-free's"  let's have a conversation, respect each other, and meet in the middle for what makes sense for everyone involved!