I have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years and one thing is always true – the visitors want to know more about farming and agriculture. They want to know where their food comes from. If they can tie it to a real farmer, then the circle is complete.
    The farm to table concept has inspired many. Some farmers work with chefs to host meals in their pastures. The event brings the consumers to the farm to see the sustainable practices, the healthy animals, and meet the people who make it happen: the farmers. I have hosted a dairy breakfast and a few family reunions and weddings, but haven’t planned a farm to table meal, yet.
    While our guests go around our farm, I point out the conservation strips that hold the soil in place and talk about our nutrient management practices where we spread manure. They see and touch the cows and calves and seem to think this is a grand life, and they are envious of us.
    Throughout the stops, I also bring up inputs. After all, farming is a business. It costs $6 a day to feed a cow, $2,000 to raise a heifer calf to a cow, and $500,000 for a combine without the head that is needed to harvest the crop. Someone usually tallies up the numbers and asks, “How do you make any money?”
    In the past it was easy to say when milk price is low, corn price is high. It evens out. Well, that is no longer the case. We have always been frugal and watched what we spend, but this year will be a tough year for us and many other farmers.
    “How much do you get for a gallon of your milk?” is asked when stopping in the milk house to see the bulk tank and milking machines. We explain that we get paid by weight, and that in the past we got extra money for quality, but not as much anymore. Extra charges have appeared on milk checks to get the milk to the plants, and we have no control of our milk price because it is a commodity. The truth is we farmers have a lot of milk. All farms are dealing with uncertainty. We know the cheese plants are full of product, and the future trading and export markets are in limbo. Small and large farm families are watching every penny.
    These people didn’t expect this when they pulled into the yard of the farm. They came to see the farm and were not aware of the crisis that we have been in.
    I don’t usually say how many farmers lost their farms, and I don’t mention that there are farmers who are working with pain and have become addicted to pain medicine and other drugs. I have never brought up that some farmers have committed suicide. I would never want to make it a depressing tour and have these families feeling sad. Perhaps they can read my face or hear it in my voice, but when talking about the dairy farming industry today, they know we are hurting.
    “What can we do to help?” is usually asked before the tour is concluded. These families care about farmers and agriculture. They want to continue to see “America’s Dairyland” when they go for Sunday drives and venture out of the city. They now know a farmer, and they want to help.
    That is an easy question for me to answer. You can help all of us by serving more dairy for your family such as milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese and butter. Put away the soda and sports drinks so the kids don’t have access to them. Purchase not just one gallon of milk, but two, so there is always milk in the refrigerator. What if their kids don’t like white milk? Easy, buy chocolate. White and chocolate milk have the same nine essential nutrients.
    Simply telling the families that Olympic athletes drink chocolate milk to refuel after a hard work out helps inspire the idea that milk is a great choice. Simply put, no other beverage out there is more naturally nutrient rich than milk and serving for serving, there is no better value.
    Demographics show a drop in fluid milk consumption, but this is 2018. This is the year we can change that. Everyone can help dairy farmers. Every glass of milk can make a difference. Having children powered by milk is a provoking idea.
    I encourage all of the kids to drink their milk at school. I try to motivate the parents to get involved at school and insist that the milk is 2% and that it is served cold. Many children only get their milk while at school, and if they don’t drink it, their growing bodies are not getting the nutrients to make them strong and smart. Milk needs to be something they want to drink, served cold and tasting delicious.
    But also, let us not forget that everyone needs milk: Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa. Some tell me they get calcium from vitamins and protein from expensive nutrient shake products. Some admit they don’t like milk, but they like to eat cheese.
    That’s in line with the demographics that show the older generations are eating more cheese. I give them a cheese challenge and request they try a different cheese every week. That isn’t too hard. There are over 600 varieties of Wisconsin cheese.
    Shopping at the grocery store is an opportunity to see all the new and favorite dairy products in the deli and dairy case. Every purchase will help farmers by consuming more dairy, and this is two-fold. It will give nutritious and delicious dairy into peoples’ diets to insure they will have a strong and healthy family.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 135 registered Holsteins and farm 2,500 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wis. They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.