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Involvement is how Doris Mold pays it forward

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 12 November 2010

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Doris Mold got her start as a 4-H and FFA member in east-central Minnesota. Because of the generosity of the adult volunteers who helped her then, she is now paying it forward tenfold.

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From dairy promotion and food safety to statistics and women’s leadership, this dairywoman balances it all while teaching, consulting, farming and being a wife and mother.

“It is important for people to be involved and have a voice in what’s going on,” says Doris, who has been involved in a lot of different things over the years.

To her it is about giving back and developing the next generation of leaders. “It is not always about making money. Somebody once helped you along the way. It is really important to give something of yourself back.”

Drawing from her 4-H experience, Doris continues to be the 4-H dairy leader in the county she grew up in, a position she’s held for 27 years. She coaches the dairy judging and dairy quiz bowl team, and she helps run the dairy show at the county fair.

“Someone once did it for me,” she says. “If you want something to remain strong and vital, you have to put effort into it.”

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Another reason she continues to be involved is because she really likes where she grew up. Unfortunately, her home farm was sold and this is her way of maintaining that connection in her life.

Doris and her siblings were the fourth generation on the family dairy farm. She always wanted to farm, but her father encouraged her to go to college in hopes she would lose the farming bug and find another career. Both of her parents passed away unexpectedly and due to circumstances at the time she was unable to purchase that farm to achieve her dream.

Doris and her husband, Andrew, were able to find a farm in northwest Wisconsin, near Cumberland. They started milking 40 cows there six years ago and have since doubled the herd to 80.

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Prior to farming, Andrew worked with agricultural and financial management software and Doris was an economist at the University of Minnesota and a consultant.

When they started, Doris was doing all the milking but her consultant work wasn’t getting done. So they switched roles and now Andrew does the day-to-day tasks while Doris focuses on feeding, feed procurement, business plans, finances and recordkeeping of herd health and reproduction.

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Andrew is on the farm full-time and Doris is at the farm most of the time but takes time to teach one day a week at the university. She also does consulting work out of their home office and works seasonally for the Minnesota State Fair.

When you add in the fact they have a six-year-old daughter, Sarah, it can be a very busy household. However, they look at everything they do as being done collectively, from the farm to the consulting business and parenting to volunteer work.

“We do whatever needs to be done,” she says, noting it is common to swap roles with one another.

Working at the state fair
In 1984, when Doris was in college, she was asked to assist with the new milking parlor put in at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Two years later, she was asked to head up the project and eventually it evolved to her current superintendent position.

The parlor serves several functions, she says, including providing a place for exhibitors to milk their cows so they may sell their milk and being an educational area with narrated milking demonstrations for fairgoers to watch.

“There are loads of people that come by who don’t understand what’s going on,” Doris says. “Consumers early on were asking questions about where their food products were coming from.”

Based on those questions, she saw the need to start an educational area in the barn, but had trouble the first few years garnering industry support for the initiative.

The Moo Booth began with a few volunteers and some patchwork displays. After a number of years, it was increasingly difficult to keep up with the expanding need for quality educational materials to help the public develop a better understanding of where their food comes from, and the work that is involved in doing so. “It became time to fish or cut bait,” she recalls.

A more significant investment was needed to help create a cohesive look to the educational area and luckily, at this time the industry was ready to provide such a commitment.

The Minnesota State Fair Foundation put together a fundraising campaign and with the help of more than 400 donors and the fair, $1.4 million was allocated to the project, which is now permanently housed in the northwest corner of the dairy barn.

The new Moo Booth covers thousands of square feet and includes displays on physiology, cow comfort, milking, feed, environment, food safety, the economy and farmers. Every area has a kid-friendly component to it. There is also a showcase dairy herd housed in the booth. This herd is used for the five milking demonstrations held in the parlor each day.

Doris estimates a half-million people stop by the booth at the fair and some spend more than an hour there.

While she is a part-time employee of the fair, Doris says most of her work on the remodeling project ended up being volunteer hours. Throughout the winter, she met weekly with designers and put in at least 40 hours a week through the summer of 2009 to see that it would be ready in time for the late-August fair.

“I wasn’t the only one,” she is quick to say. “There was a great volunteer committee that spent three years working on this.”

Plus, more than 800 people volunteer at the Moo Booth during the State Fair. They are paid with an entry ticket, T-shirt and the reward of spreading agricultural education.

It is Doris’ role to make sure the right people are in place to educate and answer consumers’ questions. She is in charge of hiring and training paid staff that work in the Moo Booth and milking parlor, and she helps with coordinating the volunteer staff, too. She also works with some of the operational funding, maintaining relationships with partners in the project, and is the point person for the media. She can be in as many as 40 interviews during the 12 days of the fair.

“I feel lucky when I get to work in the parlor or booth,” she says. “I don’t get to do that as much as I’d like.”

Additional involvement
In addition, Doris has chaired the USDA Agricultural Statistics Advisory Board, working with farmers, educators, researchers and other allied industry people. They offer advice to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on statistical issues, especially the census.

She also added another responsibility in January of this year as general manager of the Upper Midwest Dairy Industry Association (UMDIA). The organization works in a number of areas to improve the quality and safety of dairy products. In this part-time role she helps organize cheese and butter contests, assists with the spring and fall meetings, and oversees the public relations for UMDIA, among other duties. She helped launch a website and is working with the organization to develop a strategic plan to broaden the membership base.

Doris is heavily involved in the American Agri-Women organization, having served as a national officer, and is now a national committee chairwoman. She is a past president of the Minnesota affiliate and advises the University of Minnesota collegiate chapter on campus. Through her involvement at the district level, she helps to organize the Women’s Ag Leadership Conference, which is a regional conference developed for women to network and advance in leadership roles in agriculture.

“Women are capable and qualified to serve in leadership roles in agriculture. They have to be brave and carve out the role they wish to play,” she says. “I’d like to see more women not only involved in farms and dairy promotion efforts, but also on cooperative boards.”

Whether it is women or men, participation is key. “It is important for anybody to get off the farm. It really helps to get away and see a new perspective in life, which can in turn benefit your business and family,” Doris says.

Participation can yield fresh ideas and can take place anywhere, from a national group like the American Agri-Women to the local dairy promotion committee or cooperative board meeting.

She recommends signing up to serve on local committees, starting with grassroots work and progressing from there.

“If nothing is available, start something,” she says. There wasn’t a local organization for the American Agri-Women where Doris was, so she started it and a collegiate chapter simultaneously.

Anyone has that ability as long as they are interested in paying it forward. PD

PHOTOS:
TOP RIGHT : In a tiebreaker moo-off, Doris Mold (right) holds the microphone while serving as the emcee for the event held at the Minnesota State Fair Moo Booth.
TOP LEFT : First and foremost a farmer, Doris Mold can be found milking and caring for the cows on her farm before and after the activities that call her away from it. Photos courtesy of Doris Mold.

Karen Lee
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