We try to host at least one event on our farm each year. For me, giving a tour of our farm and introducing visitors to our cows are the best ways to help others better understand dairy farming.
Two years ago, a troop of Girl Scouts from St. Paul camped in our backyard. Last year, school children and a group from Puerto Rico visited our farm.
This year, Land O'Lakes brought a group of food bloggers, including Ree Drummond from The Pioneer Woman, and cooperative employees out to our farm to learn more about dairy farming.
Each time we host an event, and especially while we're getting the farm ready for the event, I find myself thinking of all the reasons why we welcome visitors to our farm.
1. Farm visits are the best way to teach others about dairy farming. We've all heard the statistics about how many people in our country are actually connected to agriculture, so I don't need to repeat them here. But there is a definite need to explain what we do on our farms to the people who consume our products. Land O'Lakes sent a small group out a month before our event for a preview. We were in the milk house explaining all of the equipment when one of the gals asked, "So do you bring the cows in here to milk them?" It was a good question: we were standing next to the milking equipment and we hadn't yet been in the barn. Even folks who work with dairy farms on somewhat regular basis don't always understand all of the different styles of dairy farming. One of the messages I try to emphasize to visitors is that even though dairy farms come in many different shapes and sizes, we all have the same end goal - to produce high quality milk, provide excellent quality of life for our cows, protect our natural resources and generate enough profit to allow us to continue to do what we love.
2. Farm visits put a deadline on to-do lists. We always seem to have one or two or 10 projects underway. And some parts of the farm always seem to need some deep cleaning. I think it's natural to want our farms to look their best when we have visitors coming, so special projects and spring cleaning become bigger priorities.
3. Farm visits give us a good reason to ask family and friends for help. For us, just doing our daily chores and keeping up with the day-to-day cleaning take up most of our day. Trying to find time for special projects and deep cleaning is tough. We would never have been able to finish our pre-visit check list without all of the help from our family and friends. It was a good reminder that we can't always do everything ourselves and sometimes we need to ask for help.
4. Working together to meet a deadline strengthens relationships. If you want to make a muscle stronger, you have to challenge it. Getting ready for a major event on your farm can definitely challenge relationships, but when you step back at the end and realize all you've accomplished together, bonds are strengthened. For this last event, even Dan and Monika were on board with helping out to get the farm ready.
5. It's a good reason to stress out about the weather. As farmers, we all have somewhat of an addiction to checking the weather, especially in the summer. As the days ticked down to our food bloggers' visit, I checked the weather every 12 hours. For a while, the forecast waffled daily between rain and sunshine. It about drove me crazy. But sunshine prevailed and we had a beautiful day.
6. Farm visits can help us remember that we are real, not perfect. Regardless of how much time is spent beautifying the farm and making sure everything looks perfect, we can't control everything in the days leading up to the event. A couple of the cows that we picked out for the bloggers' hand milking contest and milking demonstration decided to lay in cow pies while they were out in the pasture overnight, so they weren't as clean as I wanted them to be, but I just had to remind myself that our farm is not perfect, it is real.
I'll be posting photos of the bloggers' visit and more stories from the day in a blog post, just as soon as I've recovered from the event.