Recently, we at the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council had two dietetic interns – Ellen Shrader and Kelly Koss. Both ladies are enrolled in the Food Science and Human Nutrition graduate program at the University of Maine – Orono.
They had many experiences while with us, including the opportunity to visit two dairy farms – the Hardy Farm in Farmington, and Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. The Hardy Farm is a small family farm run by Teresa and Henry Hardy. They milk 55-60 Ayrshire cows, and their milk is bought by Horizon Organic. N.A. Martin is the dairy farm manager at Pineland Farms. While it is a working dairy farm, the main purpose of Pineland Farms is agricultural education for the general public. It is supported by the Libra Foundation. They milk 80-90 Holsteins. Dairy farms usually have a herd total of twice as many cows as they milk. Ones who are not being milked are too young or are in the “drying off stage” (a break in milking, sometimes as long as two months before they calve and start lactating again).
After the two farm visits, I asked Kelly and Ellen what they took with them from the experiences. It is interesting to hear a non-farmer’s perspective.
Did you have any previous farm experiences, specifically on dairy farms before your internship with the Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council?
Kelly: Prior to my experiences with the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council, I had visited Fair Oaks Farm, which is a large dairy farm [35,000 cows] in Indiana that includes a cheese factory, cafe, large gift shop, and bus tour. The highway in Indiana that takes you to Fair Oaks Farm is lined with bill boards advertising the fresh cheese and ice cream, and the potential to see a cow give birth, so it is a much different experience compared to visiting a dairy farm in Maine.
Ellen: No, I had visited very small farms in the past, but they were not dairy farms. I had experience with gardening thought the Lots to Gardens program in Lewiston, and as a personal hobby, but not to work on a farm.
Did you have any expectations of what the dairy farms would be like when you went for the visit?
Kelly: Since my prior experience only included Fair Oaks Farm, I had expected the first dairy farm we visited, Hardy Farm, to be much larger and for the cows to be lined up in a neat row.
Ellen: I expected that there would be more people working on the farm (at the Hardy farm visit), but after the discussion with Teresa I quickly realized that it’s just not financially feasible to have several workers, especially outside of the family.
What surprised you? What sort of impressions did you take away with you?
Kelly: At Hardy farm, in particular, I was surprised by how small and personal the farm felt, even though they care for over 100 animals. I was surprised by the hard work, long days, and little time off these workers endure to help ensure that dairy is available to the public. It was also enlightening to visit both the Hardy Farm and Pineland and learn about how these two farms that care for roughly the same amount of animals have very different goals in mind and how these goals determine the living situation for the animals and the amount of labor needed.
Ellen: I wish everyone took the opportunity to visit a local dairy farm. To see all of the hard work they put in 24/7 is amazing and made me appreciate local farmers more than I already did before visiting.
Our discussion with Teresa about organic v.s conventional made me think about people’s personal preferences compared to the quantity the world needs to feed as many people as there are in the world. It was a nice discussion to be a part of and to hear the perspective of the farmer. [Listen to/watch what Teresa had to say in this video.]
I really liked the public/educational piece to Pineland. It’s impressive to hear about all of the things they are doing and everything that is going on on that land, while balancing farm work with being a destination spot.
What did you like best about the farm visits?
Kelly: My absolute favorite part of the farm visits was talking with the dairy farmers. Each dairy farmer I spoke with seemed truly passionate about the cows they cared for. When I visited Fair Oaks farm I didn’t feel like there was much opportunity to have a good conversation with the workers who cared for the animals, and I also didn’t know what questions I would have wanted to ask. It was helpful visiting the two dairy farms while working with the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council, because during that time I was very much focused on the benefits of dairy and how to promote it to the public.
Ellen: What I liked best was the overall experience and ability to compare two farms in Maine. We saw so much going on at the Hardy farm, between the actual tour, the vet visit, the milk truck pickup, and all of the varied discussion with Teresa I think the experience was very well rounded and gave us a picture of the daily life of Teresa and her husband Henry. Being able to compare such a small organic farm to a larger and funded farm was a great thing because Pineland does not have as much to worry about from a financial standpoint and has a lot more land and activity going on.
Have your perceptions of dairy or dairy farms/farmers changed any?
Kelly: After visiting Hardy farm and Pineland, I have a greater respect for dairy farmers and I am more aware of the amount of work it takes to make dairy products so readily available.
Ellen: Yes. I was already choosing to purchase local dairy products prior to the visits, but the visits have made me want to advocate for local farmers even more now that I have seen and heard from the farmers what it takes to keep their farms going. I knew that these people would be hard workers, but to hear about their routines and what they are passionate about made the experience so wonderful.
Are you more aware when you consume dairy? Do you think more about where it came from?
Kelly: I start each morning with coffee, and each time I open my refrigerator to pour skim milk into my favorite drink I am reminded of my visits to Maine dairy farms with the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council and I am thankful for hard working dairy farmers and cows! (Read more about this in Kelly’s blog.)
Ellen: Absolutely! I have definitely noticed that I am drinking more milk now.
I became lactose intolerant around age 8 and then I was just told to avoid milk. So of course I avoided in all throughout middle and high school as well, until I realized that I could have some dairy and be fine. After doing some research (thank you Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council education materials) I discovered early on in college that my doctors were wrong and I could drink milk and incorporate dairy back in to my diet to help build my tolerance.
I have been doing this for a while now, but lost the craving for milk. After doing some research about chocolate milk and visiting these farms I have had milk in my refrigerator consistently and reading the packaging in the stores.