8 ideas for dairy farmers to show they care about their community

Kimmi Devaney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 19 May 2017
dairy tour

What I love most about the dairy industry is that it truly is a community. From industry events to social media, meeting up with other dairy industry members often feels more like a family reunion.

Although community relations includes our dairy industry neighbors and others involved in various sectors of agriculture, it is important to interact and engage with those not connected to farming. Unless a majority of your community is directly involved in farming, they may not realize how much your farm is contributing to the area, both in economic impact/value and community involvement.

While we don’t necessarily want to broadcast information about cows and dairy farming everywhere we go, strategically planning your community engagement activities can strengthen the understanding of agriculture and improve consumer confidence.

Regardless of how active you want to be – or have time to be – there is something everyone can do to show dairy farmers care about their communities, are active in their communities and support the well-being of their communities.

Events involve any opportunity to gather community members to learn about agriculture and can be held on the farm or at another venue.

1. School farm tours

Farm tours for school children can meet curriculum needs for teachers, especially if you have a syllabus of what topics students will learn about and what they will experience during their time at the farm. Young children will love seeing the baby calves and their parents will learn more about what it takes to keep a farm running 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.

2. Open houses

Open houses tend to be larger events and require more planning. They are an excellent opportunity to invite the entire community to see the farm and learn more about what you do and the dairy industry as a whole. Ensure you have an adequate number of volunteers to keep everything running smoothly and to operate the various stations. Stations work well since attendees will likely arrive and depart at different times and it spaces everyone out so there are not 50 people in the milking parlor at one time, for example.

If a hayride through the barns and various parts of the farm works well with the setup of your operation, it can help keep visitors contained and limit access to areas they shouldn’t be in (i.e., the lagoon or other off-limits areas). Of course, a stop at the milking parlor and calf barn may require everyone getting off the hay wagon momentarily. From a biosecurity standpoint, this method is great in preventing visitors from tracking dirt, manure or other things from one part of the farm to another or off the farm.

Some stations to consider include:

  • Registration/welcome area
  • An informational area, including booths from local vendors you work with and industry organizations
  • Tour pick up area
  • The actual farm tour
  • A ‘meet a farm expert’ area with a farm owner, veterinarian, nutritionist, milk quality specialist, agronomist, etc., to answer specific questions after the tour
  • An area to sit and relax while enjoying dairy products (you may be able to get them donated by a local dairy processing plant or sponsored by an organization you work with)

3. Street fair

The format and setup of street fairs will vary greatly from one community to another. These events are generally useful if you want to set up a booth. Large props, such as calves or farm equipment, also draw visitors in and start conversations about agriculture, and food (especially ice cream) is always a popular giveaway. Keep your display simple and visually appealing to avoid overwhelming visitors with too many papers. What sets your booth apart from the others? What is intriguing about it? Last but not least, don’t forget to smile.

4. Parades

Parades are the perfect opportunity to showcase your favorite tractor or another piece of equipment. The interactive part of this activity occurs before and after the main event when you can engage with others who may be curious about what hay implement is attached to the tractor and what it’s used for.

5. Community auction

If there’s an auction, perhaps the farm donates an item or a gift certificate. There are a lot of ways to be involved.

6. Other events occurring in your community

Do some research and see which events are held annually, and then evaluate if they are a good match for your interests.

7. Youth sports team sponsorships

Sponsorships are another way to publicly demonstrate your commitment to the community. The classic example that comes to mind is a youth sports team. I know several farms that have done this. Their farm name or logo is located somewhere on the team jerseys or shirts, and they have a presence at some of the games. Investing in the next generation is always a good idea. This idea isn’t limited to sports teams and can be applied to any youth activities.

8. Community event sponsorships

Other sponsorships may include one of the previously mentioned community events. It takes money to run these, and they are likely looking for sponsors. Benefits will vary by event, but it will get your name out there.

Wait a minute. What if we don’t want our farm name all over everything? Can we still participate in these types of events? The answer is yes, and the event coordinators can let you know if there are other benefits that may appeal to you or if you can be a sponsor without including your farm name or logo.

Sponsorships can be large or small – whatever fits your budget and interests.

Shining example: Indy 500

The Indianapolis 500 is a prime example of a large sponsorship by Indiana dairy farmers through the Indiana dairy checkoff. Last year was the 100th running, and Prairie Farms donated 100,000 milks for fans to enjoy as they helped winner Alexander Rossi celebrate his victory at the end of the race. Dairy farmers hand the bottle of milk to the winning driver, team owner and chief mechanic, and the event as a whole highlights milk as a prize. Click here to learn more about Janet Dague, milk lady for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, her experiences at the race and information about their Indiana dairy farm.

To learn more about local events in your community that you may be able to sponsor or get involved with, visit with your chamber of commerce, local tourism office, civic organizations, youth sports teams (if there’s a parks and recreation organization, they may be able to connect you, depending how it is set up in your area) or other organizations affiliated with such events.

When milk prices are low and margins are tight, there is not a lot of extra money, but your time is still valuable. If you are unable to donate an item or money to an event and still want to participate, ask if they need any assistance running the event. Many of them are always looking for volunteers, and this is a terrific way to put a face on your farm.

The dairy industry is more than milking parlors, silos and tractors, and there are so many options for all of us to connect with others in our communities to share our farm stories.  end mark

Kimmi Devaney is the agricultural marketing and industry development manager with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. She also writes an agricultural blog.

PHOTO: Staff photo.

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