So much of our population is so far removed from the farm that kids grow up thinking their food is made in the store. Sometimes people in agriculture joke about chocolate milk coming from brown cows, but there are some people that really do think that. A survey conducted by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy revealed that seven percent of adults in the U.S. think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. I love talking to people and showing them where their food comes from. As a part of the Dairy Club at Purdue University I got the chance to talk to others about the agriculture industry, and I realized how much misinformation exists.
Every year the Purdue College of Agriculture hosts an Ag Week on the main campus to promote agriculture to the rest of Purdue’s students and the most anticipated event is Milk Monday. The Dairy Club hands out free grilled cheese and milk and brings calves and a cow to campus. I assumed most students would know the basics about food production, but there were a lot who didn’t. Growing up on a dairy farm I always knew where my food came from and I thought that everyone else did too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Free food makes people stop.
I learned a lot the first time I took a cow to campus. The first task in engaging the college crowd is getting them to stop and get their attention. Hand them a free grilled cheese with a dairy sticker on the wrapping – free food always gets college kids to look up from their phones! Then point them to where the cow is to show them how that cheese started. It is interesting to see the people who know cheese is a dairy product, but don’t make the connection between the cow and the grilled cheese they are eating.
Cows can break the ice.
When the students go over to the cows you really have their attention and have a great opportunity to start a conversation. Everyone wants to pet the calves and as soon as they ask their first question, the dialogue is open. It could be them asking the calf’s name, if it’s a boy or girl, how old they are, no matter what it is you have started a positive conversation about agriculture. The Dairy Club also lets people try their hand at milking a cow, and apparently it is a lot harder than I thought! I grew up milking cows and it came natural to me so watching college students try something new for the very first time is fun. It gets them to sit down and get a fun, hands-on experience in the dairy industry. And then when the milk squirts from the teat, their reactions range from bewildered and shocked to completely fascinated!
Cows make people happy.
Spending time in the barn with cows always made my day better and it’s not only farm kids that feel this way. Petting the calves would make people’s week. I’m sure most of you understand that after a stressful week of homework, class and studying, it doesn’t take much to brighten your day. And if that bright spot involves the agriculture industry, all the better. Last year I was talking to a girl that had been by to pet the calves at least three times already that day. She was from Indianapolis and had never seen a cow before, but quickly fell in love with the two little calves we brought to campus that day. She stopped by between every class just to ‘check on the calves.’ We talked about the industry and the Dairy Club and she ended up joining the club that day! Every time we had an event with the cows, she was always the first one there. She loved working with the cows and said it always made her feel better.
People do appreciate us.
There are people that are really thankful for the dairy industry and agriculture in general. It is really nice to hear that many people do appreciate all the hard work we do. When hosting events, we always get some people that thank us for what we do in the agriculture industry. They talk about how much they love milk and cheese and know that they have the farmers, and the cows, to thank for it. We love to hear that our event is appreciated and love to hear about positive experiences with agriculture.
You can’t please everyone.
On the other side, there are always going to be people that disagree with you and you won’t be able to change their mind. One year we had a few people show up to protest milk and production agriculture. Through this experience, I learned that some people will agree with you, some will disagree, and there is a portion that falls somewhere in between. Focusing on the “moveable middle” will help us communicate about agriculture, and I believe handing out free grilled cheese and introducing them to a cow is a great impression on our part.
As a Dairy Club member, Milk Monday became my favorite day of the year. Not only did it kick off Ag Week, it was the day I got to share my passion. I got to spend all day hanging out with the calves and talking to people about the dairy industry – it can’t get much better than that. On Milk Monday, students get a taste of the dairy industry, they see how awesome cows are, realize how hard farmers work, and remember that dairy products can be a great part of a healthy balanced diet.