As dairy farmers, we have been practicing environmental stewardship for generations simply because it is the right thing to do and the best way to do business. However, practicing these values is just step one. We also need to share what we are doing because research indicates that dairy farmers are one of the most trusted sources with consumers, and more than 70% of consumers would like more information about where dairy products come from.

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day this April, dairy farmers are uniquely positioned to share how our farm stewardship efforts align with consumer values to showcase the long-standing commitment of dairy farmers to care for our land, animals and communities.

The truth is, when it comes to farming practices and where food comes from, a story is going to be told. If we do not tell it, someone else will, and it may not be someone who has all the facts. As farmers, we have a responsibility to share stories about our businesses that impact consumers and our communities.

If you ask anyone whether they care about sustainability, almost everyone will say yes. But sustainability is a big word that embodies many different interpretations. At Cinnamon Ridge, we often tell sustainability stories without ever saying the word itself. We talk about the earth and what a cover crop does for soil. We educate about water quality, how we use, recycle and reuse our resources. We share the full circle sustainability story of how our cows eat what we grow in our fields, and how we use the manure as fertilizer to grow more crops. Consumers are curious, and we should not forget to have conversations about what might seem like everyday practices.

Partnerships make all the difference when it comes to sharing our story. For starters, Midwest Dairy has been a resource for us as we tap into available free promotional materials through the Midwest Dairy Promo Center and Undeniably Dairy grants that help fund our ideas for on-farm activities. We have also developed strong relationships with the local fire department and FFA to support each other’s efforts. For example, we hosted an event to raise money for the local fire department. The event was cost-neutral to us, the proceeds went to a great cause, the media took interest, and we were able to share information about dairy with consumers who took time to visit our farm.

Partnerships are also a great way to figure out what works for you. We love doing tours, but we know that is not for everyone. So, we partner with other farm families in the community who would rather support by staffing an event, knowing it is making a difference for their operation too.

Perhaps you would be more interested in advocating on a local school board, hosting a virtual farm tour or participating in an Ag in the Classroom program. Find your lane and do what feels natural to you.

For those who are just getting started telling their story, it can seem overwhelming. Many get stalled looking at the magnitude of the opportunity – or as the saying goes, the size of the elephant. But just like you eat a metaphorical elephant one bite at a time, every step toward connecting with consumers is a step in the right direction. One conversation with a neighbor. One simple partnership. One farm tour at a time. It all makes a difference if we move in the same direction. If even a few more farmers say, “I can do my part in this small way,” it will make participating easier for everyone.

This ongoing conversation is critical to a more sustainable future. Consumers hold the power of the purse when it comes to deciding which products they will put in their grocery carts, but farmers have the means to production. As we continue to keep the lines of conversation open and share with each other – consumers expressing their values and preferences, and farmers sharing their practices – we can continue to raise awareness about how dairy farming is a sustainable practice. Like any worthwhile message, it is worth sharing again and again in different and new ways every day.