Several years ago when I started advocating for our family’s dairy farm and our way of life, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was prepared for people who didn’t agree with me and even for animal rights activists. What I was not prepared for was my fellow farmers.
Now let me first start off by saying that I have met the most amazing farmers. Many have become great friends. In addition to making great friends, I have learned so much about my own industry as well as other industries.
I have also learned that there is a lot of division within agriculture.
As I started to share our farm life online, I quickly realized my biggest critics were my fellow dairy farmers. It wasn’t long before news traveled back to me that several farm women were sharing about what I posted on social media and picking it apart. I was told that I hadn’t been born into farming and didn’t know enough to be putting our farm out there like I was. Many expressed concern that I was going to do more harm than good. And that folks, was just the women in my own state.
It was only a matter of time as I reached more people that comments started appearing on my posts as well. I had farmers questioning why we did things the way we did and even some that suggested that we needed to make some serious upgrades. It wasn’t until I shared on a post what our cows eat that it really hit me. I posted the typical diet of our cows trying to share with consumers what they eat, which included alfalfa hay, alfalfa silage and barley as the main ingredients. Farmers lost it because apparently you cannot have a proper ration without corn silage. Folks made comments on how our “milk production probably sucked,” “we needed to feed our cows better,” and several even implied that we needed to get a nutritionist.
I had to take a step back. It took me down a notch and began to wear on me. I started to decide if the negative from my fellow farmers was worth it. It didn’t matter that we had a 60-pound herd average (on a non-holstein herd), that we have a 5 percent butterfat, that growing corn where we farm isn’t common practice, or even that our nutritionist put our ration together. All that matter to these farmers was that they don’t do it that way and everyone that does it different is wrong. I was done. I wanted to quit.
After I took a deep breath and talked it out with my husband and several other advocates, I decided that I couldn’t quit. In fact, this is the very reason why I needed to continue. Having not grown up on a farm and being thrown head first into it made me realize how disconnected farmers are from consumers. We may think it’s the other way around but it’s not. As farmers it is our responsibility to make sure our customers know about the products they are buying. If they want to know how the cows are raised, what they eat and why we separate the calves then we need to be the ones telling them. I had a community full of people, people who I grew up with that just like me, who knew nothing about dairy farming. It is my responsibility that if they have questions, especially questions that are going to be the deciding factor if they buy milk or milk alternatives, I better darn well make myself available to answer those questions. The best way for me to do that and still be active on the farm? Social media.
I honestly believe that farmers need to step up and start sharing their story. Many people are pushing farmers to get online, but to be frank, not all farmers need to be online or should be. There is so many opportunities to advocate in our own communities. My only hope is that farmers will see the damage they are doing by tearing each other down and attacking each other’s differences. We are less than 2 percent of this growing population, and we need to work together as activists and environmental groups pick us off one by one. There is so much truth in “united we stand, divided we fall.”
Krista Stauffer is a wife, mother of three, and first-generation millennial dairy farmer. Krista works side by side with her husband and kids on their 140-cow dairy. She shares their everyday farm life on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and her blog.