It’s that time of year, when we all think about what we’re thankful for. As a New England dairy farmer, I certainly can appreciate my life and my calling, and I know many of my fellow dairy farmers feel the same.
So, as a dairy farmer … what am I thankful for?
Good neighbors. Our local communities support and appreciate dairy as a vital part of the landscape and the economy. Not only do dairy farms offer local employment, they add scenic beauty to the rural landscape and offer seasonal tourist dollars through corn mazes, holiday tree farms, farm-to-table dinners and other activities.
Partnerships with local businesses. From the brewers that supply grain for our cows, to local veterinarians who maintain herd health to distributors and processors that transport milk across New England, we all work together to provide quality dairy products for regional customers and beyond. These local businesses use our fresh, local milk and also turn it into products like cheese, ice cream, baked goods and other delicious products we love.
Technology that makes the job easier. Robotic milkers, self-driving tractors, drones, cow activity monitors (like a Fitbit!) and other farm technologies help dairy farmers feed more people and care for their cows in a responsible way. Some dairy farmers use apps for nitrogen monitoring in the soil and have methane digesters, which transforms waste into methane gas that can generate electricity!
Schools that support dairy farms. Connecting the next generation to agriculture is so important. Many New England states celebrate Dairy Harvest of the Month to encourage healthy food choices by exposing students to seasonal foods, and to support local farmers while building excitement about school meals. For example, Vermont’s Dairy in the Classroom program allows students to explore dairy farming and the role farmers play in their local food system.
Cooperative Extension Service. These are the men and women who share research and other critical information from our land-grant universities. Dairy farmers are always learning new ways of doing their work, and Extension agents are the liaisons between farmers and university researchers. By sharing the latest technologies, cutting-edge research, and other information, Extension folks are a critical lifeline for many dairy farmers.
Our families, who continue long-held traditions, caring for their animals and the land they farm. Where would we be without the grandparents, parents, and children who work hard and preserve our dairy heritage? On a personal note, as a dairy farmer and a mom, I am grateful to be able to raise my kids on the farm and be a working mom at the same time.
And finally, the New England landscape itself. Its timeless beauty, its many challenges, the never-ending wonder of living and working in a unique place. We value the work ethic that makes our home a place to cherish and protect. What would New England be without its dairy farms?
Heidi Dolloff and her husband, Mike, established Dolloff Acres Farm in Springfield, Vermont, in 1997. They care for 160 dairy cows and won the 2014 Green Pastures Dairy Farm of the Year Award in Vermont. She is the chair of the New England Dairy & Food Council and New England Dairy Promotion Board.