Becca Hermann
Becca Hermann
    ST. PAUL, Minn. – After serving one year as a dairy ambassador, Kennedy Haney knows the direction of her future, and it includes being involved in the dairy community.
    “It totally changed my aspirations,” said 21-year-old Haney, a senior dietetics major at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn.
    Haney is talking about her involvement in the dairy ambassador program through Midwest Dairy. Last year, the program debuted in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. It started in Nebraska five years ago. This year, North Dakota is being added to the list.  
    “It’s designed to develop dairy leaders but also give them the opportunity to be out at events, promoting dairy and sharing their dairy story,” said Theresa Reps, agricultural affairs manager for Midwest Dairy.
    The year-long program is open to college-aged students who simply have an interest in dairy.
    “This is an opportunity for all dairy leaders,” Reps said. “There’s a need to find people who didn’t grow up on the farm but have an interest and are going to be part of the dairy industry.”
    That is the case with Haney.
    “I’m here [as a dairy ambassador] because I have a different avenue than most,” she said.
    Although her grandparents lived on a dairy, she had limited exposure to dairy growing up. She learned more about dairy two years ago when she met her boyfriend, who is a dairy, beef and crop farmer; however, she still was not headed into a career as a clinical dietitian with dairy in mind. When one of her professors suggested the dairy ambassador program, she decided to try it.
    “Dietetics goes hand in hand with agriculture,” Haney said. “After I met [my boyfriend] Dylan, … I see the activist and opposing side of dairy. I wanted to better myself to combat those. What better way than to get involved.”
    After being in the program, Haney now wants to be in dietetics on the food production level. She said she would love to work for Midwest Dairy, a state beef council, the United State Department of Agriculture or a similar organization.
    There are also many ambassadors, like Becca Hermann, who grew up on dairy farms. Hermann, 21, is studying dairy science technology at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, Iowa. After graduating with a two-year degree, she plans to transfer to South Dakota State University to study dairy manufacturing before returning to her family’s 30-cow Guernsey dairy to create an on-farm processing facility near Manchester, Iowa.
    “I wanted to build trust with consumers and get to know the way consumers think,” Hermann said about why she wanted to be a dairy ambassador. “I hope I shed some positive light on the dairy community.”
    Throughout her year, the ambassadors first went through a communication training to prepare for the year. Then they attended events where they interacted with consumers. This included state fairs, farm-to-table events, breakfast on the farms, school visits and on-farm open houses.
    Hermann liked explaining that many farms have similarities, but every farm is different.
    “It was nice to be more transparent to the public and connecting with them by answering their questions,” Hermann said. “They just want to know they have nutritious, good quality food that is safe for them and their kids.”
    Haney had the opportunity to teach a unit about dairy and beef in one of her classes called Current Issue. This was important to Haney because several people in the cohort are vegetarians or vegans.
    “I had the opportunity to bring dairy to my own campus,” she said. “I maybe didn’t change their (the vegan and vegetarians) minds, but I gave them more information.”
    Ambassadors also interacted in the dairy community by attending industry meetings, such as the Dairy Experience Forum and the Central Plains Dairy Expo. They also went on dairy farm tours.
    “I saw first hand what goes down,” Haney said.
    Hermann said the program was a benefit to her.
    “I made a lot of connections with people,” she said.
    Haney also spoke positively about being an ambassador.
    “They let me go out to events and do things related to dairy nutrition,” Haney said. “I tailored it to my own passions and Midwest Dairy was 100 percent supportive.”
    Hermann and Haney exemplify the purpose of the program, Reps said.
    “A unique part of this program is it focuses on the leadership side, finding ways for them to network and develop those skills and meet people in the industry,” Reps said. “There’s this need to find a way to continue to develop dairy leaders. The ultimate goal is all these dairy ambassadors will be a part of the dairy industry in some way, shape or form and be positive advocates for dairy.”
    Hermann and Haney fulfilled that goal with their future career paths.
    “Midwest Dairy showed me a side of dairy I never knew before,” Haney said.