Country music artist Miranda Lambert has a song called “All Kinds of Kinds,” with lyrics focusing on circus performers in love, cross-dressing politicians and misfit high school kids. The last lines of the song read:

“Now some point a finger and let ignorance linger, if they’d look in the mirror they’d find. That ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning, it takes all kinds of kinds.”

When talking to people online I often find myself humming the melody in my head.

While comments from a vegan in New York City or an animal rights activist from Los Angeles come from opposite ends of the spectrum from where I stand, that “kind of kind” isn’t the one that triggers the music in my head. It’s when I’m talking to fellow farmers that I find myself most often needing to remember that life would be pretty boring if we were all the same.

Farmers have been hearing they need to connect to their customers and share their stories. As more farmers take to Twitter and Facebook to share how they farm, many think they will only face questions from their customers. As such, farmers may feel prepared to answer those questions, but are blindsided when another farmer chimes in and says they are doing something wrong. Suddenly they are in defense mode against their peers, digging to prove that they are right and the other person is wrong. Unfortunately, this has led to a greater divide in agriculture.

While our intention with each post or tweet is to connect with our customers and share how we care for our cows and our land, it frequently is taken from the “other side” as a shot across the bow:

• A large farmer shares how their new freestall is state of the art for cow comfort, unlike old red tie-stall barns.

• The farmer in the stanchion barn shares that their cows all have names and aren’t just numbers, unlike the big farm’s cows.

• The organic farmer talks about not using GMO seeds or herbicides. In return the conventional crop farmer throws out that organic farmers can use pesticides, skipping the technicalities of the statement.

 

Our customers see this back-and-forth and are confused. Sometimes it’s not a personal attack that puts us on defense. When I go to the grocery store, my friend Emily Zweber’s face looks at me from the Organic Valley gallon of milk in the dairy aisle. The label touts that the milk is from a local family farm, yet I know that the non-organic milk next to it is also from local family farms. I could take that as an attack and get angry at Organic Valley for promoting what they do and get defensive.

The truth is, Organic Valley is playing the game well, and most non-organic milk companies aren’t even at the game. There is nothing stopping fluid milk sellers Dean, Hood, Kemps or any other non-organic brand from getting into the game, featuring a photo of one of their farmers on the label, and touting what makes them great. But they don’t. Who should we be mad at for that?

There is a level between singing Kumbaya and all-out warfare that we need to work towards. It’s called respect for our peers. Despite production practices, farm size or what color tractor we park in our driveway, dairy brings us all together.

It’s time we start focusing on what we’re doing – while also respecting what our neighbors are doing – and remember that it takes “all kinds of kinds”.

Carrie Mess farms in partnership with her husband Patrick and his parents on their 100-cow, 300-acre dairy farm near Lake Mills, Wis. She also speaks to agricultural organizations, empowering farmers to tell their own stories through social media.

“Dairy Carrie” can be reached via

Email: carriemess@gmail.com

Twitter: @DairyCarrie

Facebook: facebook.com/dairycarrie

Follow her blog, The Adventures of Dairy Carrie, at dairycarrie.com.