“We were tested before don’t but I don’t know how much we can be tested anymore to be honest. As in like, how long we can make it here. I don’t know how anyone is supposed to make it.”
In April 2019, young dairy farmer Mark Berg shared the video below about his family’s struggles in the industry. The video went viral, with many people either connecting directly with Mark’s feelings or realizing the reality of dairy farming. A year later, we caught up with Mark to see where he is now and to learn more about the response he received from the original video, as well as check in on how his operation was handling the pandemic.
The reaction from the video
As Mark stated in the video, he has worked with his parents on their Minnesota farm, Trailside Dairy, his whole life. When he originally recorded the video, he had no idea that it would reach so many people — he was simply stating his truth. Where did that truth lead him? To many heartfelt messages of support, from not only farmers but also from consumers.
Of course with every good, the negative also seems to come out. There were a few anti-animal agriculture activists who commented on the video, yet Mark said the overwhelming number of the messages he received were positive and filled with people asking how they can help. Unfortunately, like most dairies, Trailside Dairy cannot sell direct to the consumer due to the contract with their dairy co-op. But Mark encouraged everyone who reached out to him to support their local businesses, because in a roundabout way, that also supports local farmers.
Farmer Mental Health
During the video, Mark commented on the state of farmer’s mental health and the uptick in farmer suicide in the past decade. Farmers and ranchers are prideful people, and we take great honor in our work. However, when that work has been so mentally and financially draining, it is hard not to connect the strain at work to your personal state of mind.
“I think that is a point to be brought up. We are not looking for pity, but farming in general is kind of becoming unfair. The farmer has to put in everything they have and they forget about themselves. It is like yourself is the last thing on the agenda,” Mark said. Farmers don’t want to feel that failure. When farmers overlook themselves, they also tend to forget about the things that matter like relationships and hobbies, which can drive their mental health down even further.
Mark admits he has dealt with depression, just like so many other farmers and ranchers. Since the video went viral, Mark was able to connect with individuals in his community and put himself first on his own agenda and get help. In addition to sitting in on seminars, Mark has also been a speaker for depression on different panels and worked with the University of Minnesota Extension as they expanded their rural mental health programs.
As farmers and ranchers we often feel that it is taboo to talk about failures and feelings. However, we need to realize that we are worth it. May is Mental Health Month, and we can take action by just normalizing the mental health discussion among farmers and ranchers. You are worth more than your net worth.
How have things changed in a year?
At the beginning of the year, milk prices were on the rise for a few months, but then the coronavirus spread across the country, shutting everything down. Mark said, “We were tested before, but I don’t know how much we can be tested anymore, to be honest. As in like, how long we can make it here. I don’t know how anyone is supposed to make it.”
Mark continued that prices need to stay consistent at a profitable mark for longer than two months.
“It was so short lived. And that’s the problem — you can’t take four years of losing money and expect to make up for it in two months. That’s just not how it works,” he said. “I understand that the smaller farms like ours get hurt first, but I can’t imagine that this is working for any size farm.”
Mark has noticed there has been two different reactions to the video. When the video was first released, 90 percent of the comments were, “I didn’t know it was that bad for the farmer.” This year, when the video started to circulate again in April, Mark noticed the comments focused more on the current situation at the grocery store due to the coronavirus. Mark believes people are waking up to how farmers have been neglected for so many years and reiterates how people need to know where their food is coming from.
In addition to empty grocery stores, people are seeing food being wasted. Thankfully Trailside Dairy has not had to dump any milk, but Mark did comment on the waste of products.
“I hate seeing food being wasted — wasted food is wasted money.” Talking about the videos of produce being turned over in the fields and animals not making it to market, Mark asked, “Does that mean that essentially we are witnessing all the food we waste?”
Now it is not running through the restaurant business and getting dumped there, we are seeing it dumped at the source — the farmer has to dump everything they worked so hard on. Maybe the coronavirus will make us realize the waste we can become more efficient as a country.
Mark noted that smaller-scale farmers seem to be bearing a disproportionately large piece of the industry downturn, both during the coronavirus and amid the longer-term shifts in the industry. “Personally,” he said, “I think it is sad we are seeing the death of the small farmer.”