For the past two years, our organization has helped to co-host the Calving Corner, which is a dairy cow birthing center at the Farm Show.
This year, the Calving Corner project manager added a “Thank a Farmer” component to the Calving Corner, encouraging those who visited the exhibit to write notes of thanks. More than 1,000 people filled out cards, which will be shared with dairy farmers at upcoming events and through other outreach. It was truly amazing to see how eagerly people lined up and to see the list of reasons why they were thankful for the farmer.
It made me wonder how often we who live and work in dairy stop to remember all the reasons we have to be thankful. Native American warrior Tecumseh was quoted as saying, “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
Studies show embracing “an attitude of gratitude,” especially when life gets challenging, can improve your health, lower your stress level and increase your productivity. A Forbes article suggests taking 60 seconds to pause and reflect on reasons to be thankful can give our brains and our bodies a chance to recalibrate. It offers a chance to focus not only on the present and how to turn things around but on hidden opportunities to be grateful.
So what reason do we in dairy have to be thankful right now? There are so many of them. Here are just a few I came up with.
1. Our product. When I was young, everyone knew milk was nature’s most nearly perfect food. It did not change. It is still the most complete source of nutrients naturally available and one of the most versatile products on the marketplace. Name one other commodity that can be made into as many different products as milk can. I cannot think of any.
2. A growing customer base. By 2050, the world population is expected to be nearly 10 billion people. The largest growing segment of the population is beyond our U.S. borders, with 90 percent of the mouths we feed outside of the U.S. As populations grow and developing countries gain more wealth, dairy proteins will continue to grow in demand.
3. The opportunity to get better. What the dairy industry has been able to do over the past 50 years is nothing short of amazing. In the 1960s, the average milk production per cow was just under 10,000 pounds. Having the opportunity to continue that improvement is one reason why so many people are so passionate about what they do.
4. The innovation in our industry. Getting better isn’t just occurring on the farm side. It’s also happening on the product side. If you look back just 10 years ago, half the products on the market today wouldn’t have been there. Cheese chips, lactose-free yogurt, fruit and dairy nutraceuticals and many more products are emerging, all using dairy proteins as the base.
5. The trust farmers have earned. Despite the negative rhetoric we hear in the news, farmers are still one of the most highly trusted professions. A study from the Center for Food Integrity shows farmers are ranked No. 3 among stakeholders who consumers trust the most to ensure their food is safe.
6. Our resiliency. One of the most remarkable qualities of the farm community is our ability to be resilient. That is when people move past their fears and focus on solutions to rebound stronger than they were before a crisis. That is what is happening right now in the dairy industry. It will take time but, ultimately, we will be in a better place because of that momentum.
7. Our work ethic. My sons complain often how they have to work when very few of their friends do. I always tell them they will thank me for it someday. They don’t like that answer, but it’s true. The work ethic you learn growing up on a dairy farm or working on a farm is hard to replicate and even harder to teach.
8. The opportunity to work with family. I grew up working beside my parents and my siblings. Because we worked so closely together, we fought a lot – over whose turn it was to milk, who forgot to clean the water buckets or who didn’t get out of bed in time. But we also had a lot of fun, and we learned to appreciate, respect and depend on each other.
9. The community that surrounds us. That sense of family within dairy extends far beyond our individual families. The people I work with now in the industry are people I went to college with and people who grew up being involved in the same 4-H and FFA programs I did. Whether they are on the farm or in the industry, they are dedicated and passionate about what they do because they want to see that dairy community continue to thrive.
10. The farmer. Just like those at the Calving Corner, I am thankful for farmers. They work hard to carry on a heritage passed down for many generations while continuing to evolve their business to fit in an ever-changing, fast-paced and increasingly more volatile industry. If you are a farmer, be proud of who you are and thankful for the heritage you have been given.
Author Melody Beattie once said, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace to today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” As we look for opportunities to shape and mold the future of our industry, having an attitude of gratitude might be beneficial. Remembering reasons to be thankful in dairy can help us find the inspiration and the vision we need to keep moving forward.
Jayne Sebright serves as the executive director for Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence.