Stories have always been an important part of my life. As a child and the youngest by nine years of five children, my older siblings read storybooks to me every day. Growing up, reading books and listening to stories on records was how I entertained myself while my older siblings were off and busy in high school and college.
    My aunt, Helen, who taught first grade in St. Paul, Minn., shared Scholastic books with me from her classroom. Helen also gave us the gift of tickets for plays and musicals throughout the years. Our entire family could attend because the matinees were in between chore times. I remember loving the stories told in, “The Sound of Music,” and “The Music Man,” and seeing my parents relax and laugh.
    My paternal grandmother served as the local Point Douglas News columnist. I remember listening to her make the phone calls to acquire the news from her rural Wisconsin and Minnesota neighbors who lived where the St. Croix River flowed into the Mississippi. She jotted things in a notebook and then submitted her weekly column to inform others of who entertained, had a birthday, got married or maybe fell ill. Her news gathering and writing skills must have impressed me.
    All of these early life experiences likely helped to shape what I enjoyed and what I studied once I could make those choices. Learning about people’s stories and then writing them for others to enjoy was fun. Agricultural journalism was a natural profession for me. Now I enjoy encouraging others to write the stories as it is tough for me to take time off the farm. This monthly column is an outlet and a joy for me to express some of my thoughts.
    Today, news and stories are so easy to share. We have instant online access at all times if we want. There is no waiting for that monthly magazine to arrive in the mailbox. Instead there are tweets, blogs and YouTube.
    I will admit I like to spend time keeping up with posts of cow show photos and the World Dairy Expo live stream. The showcase of beautiful cattle of all breeds is fun to read about or watch online, all without leaving your farm. But, sometimes you cannot beat being there in person.
    Rolf and I have been able to attend the Dairy Shrine Banquet held at the Expo for the past few years. Besides scholarships presented to dairy students, also included in this event are honored pioneers, breeders of the year and a guest of honor. Stories are told of their worthwhile contributions to, and impact on, our industry. To sit and listen is a great honor and good use of our time. It is interesting to hear about the accomplishments of these people, some of whom I used to contact and interview for my dairy magazine articles.
    I love to hold a paper or a magazine in my hands and spend time focusing on the stories written there. My family teases me about my dairy magazine reading habits and how I share articles with others who I think might enjoy reading them.
Now, social media is a great way to learn about other’s stories and to tell your own. As an industry, we can shape the narrative about how we take care of our animals, land, water and air by telling our story to others. There is an incredible opportunity to share our practices with others who do not know what we do.
    An example from the folks at the Dairy Management Inc. “Undeniably Dairy” booth that I saw at Expo are videos shot at dairy farms. In one video, a dairy woman tells how she up-cycles food waste by including it in her cows’ ration. It was a simple, brief message depicted in a very fun video to watch. She is on her farm with her cows eating in the background. Shared on social media, the videos easily inform people who would not otherwise know about our on-farm practices.
    We do not all have the time or ability to shoot professional videos and get them on social media. Think about what you can do. Maybe it is as simple as telling your neighbors, friends or someone you sit next to at a meeting about what is happening on your dairy. Maybe it is saying yes to giving a farm tour or agreeing to be interviewed for a news story on a local media outlet. Maybe it is catching your non-farm relatives up on how your harvest went during the family holiday gatherings to come.
    Whichever way works for you, be encouraged to tell your dairy farm story because people want to know what you do and why. We all have a voice and a stake in telling others.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.