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Names in the News: Sue McCloskey

Published on 06 February 2015

Sue McCloskey

Sue McCloskey and her husband, Mike, run Fair Oaks Farms, a 37,000-cow operation and agritourist park in Indiana. The farm and its cooperative, Select Milk Producers, is working in partnership with Coca-Cola to produce the milk-based product FairLife.

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National Public Radio recently interviewed Sue about the product. Progressive Dairyman caught up with Sue to talk about the experience.

How was the interview with NPR arranged?

NPR contacted Fair Oaks Farms, our cooperative’s agritourism destination, and asked for an interview based on the buzz created from the announcement of our co-op’s new product, FairLife milk.

Why did you consent to the interview?

There was an awful lot of negative publicity and incorrect information about our cooperative’s partnership with The Coca-Cola Company and I wanted to help clear the air.

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Although Stephen Colbert’s segment about “Franken-milk” brought us a lot of free publicity, it also created a lot of confusion. It was also an opportunity to tell the story of how our co-op was founded and what drives us to do the things we do.

Were you nervous? How did you prepare?

I wasn’t nervous, as we’ve been telling this story for a while now. The biggest concern was making sure the reporter understood the relationships of our different businesses, though in the end he was still a bit confused in reporting.

What was the most surprising thing about the interview?

The NPR reporter, Dan Charles, did the interview as fairly unscripted. It was very much a conversation between two people, which was brilliant because it put me at ease and allowed for some candid comments to come out.

Were you happy with the final product?

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The NPR story was fair and balanced and only contained one piece of information that wasn’t correct. Overall, we were very happy with the story as it generated a lot of interest in Fair Oaks Farm and FairLife, as well.

What was the most difficult question?

After listening to our whole history and story, Dan asked “Why? Why not just milk cows? Why not just be happy with shipping your milk?” It was a loaded question and one that I had to stop and think how to respond to. I think I answered something to the effect that “If you can dream it, you can do it. And if you don’t do it, somebody else will.”

Have you had any feedback from the spot?

Oh, there’s been feedback! It’s been really interesting reading the comments on NPR’s website and their Facebook and Twitter posts.

The vegan activists came out in full force, but what is encouraging is the scores of people who understand: Farmers are good people; it’s logical, economical and, most importantly, morally imperative to treat your cows well, and milk is one of the safest, most affordable and most nutritious foods around.

Overall was it worthwhile to do the interview?

As dairy farmers who’ve literally opened their doors to the public, it’s always worthwhile to take the opportunity to promote our industry and to try to dispel the negative, loud and incorrect chatter coming from those who would rather not have milk on their cereal, bacon on their BLT or cheese on their pizza.

What advice would you have for other dairy producers who may be doing interviews?

People can pick up on insincerity pretty quickly. Be honest and transparent, and if you don’t know something, say so.

My husband, Mike, said something brilliant at a conference referring to the meat industry’s “pink slime” fiasco. He said, “If you can’t take someone who knows nothing about your business, stand them in any part of your facility and be able to clearly explain how, what and why you are doing what you’re doing, then you have a PR problem.” PD

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