As the gap between dairy farm and consumer widens, it's more important than ever for dairy producers to educate the public on dairy production. Albert Steenblik, owner of Steenblik Dairy Farm in Pewamo, Mich., recently opened his 2,500-cow dairy to the public by hosting the Clinton County Breakfast on the Farm.
Q: Why do you think it's important for dairy producers to open their farms to the public?
It's important to conduct events like Breakfast on the Farm because it gives consumers a chance to see how their food is produced. When they visit our farms, we have an amazing opportunity to show them how we care for our animals, preserve the environment and produce a safe, healthy product. In one day we are able to show how dairy farms really operate.
Q: How did you prepare to host the breakfast?
To plan for the big day, we met monthly, starting in December, with our two biggest supporters — the Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Farm Bureau. In the weeks leading up to the event, we gathered sponsors and volunteers. All volunteers attended a training session two nights before the event to learn about their responsibilities, responses to tough questions, and handling disruptive attendees. As far as the dairy itself is concerned, we took it from very clean to immaculate.
Q: What is your best advice for communicating with consumers at dairy promotion events?
Keeping your explanations simple is key to informing consumers without overwhelming them. Including technical detail may confuse those not familiar with dairy production and may lead to more questions. Try relating management practices to common at-home practices. For example, if a consumer asks about antibiotic use, compare it with treating a child for an ear infection.
Q: Did you receive any surprising questions?
Yes, an attendee observed my wife coming out of the house and asked if we actually lived on the dairy farm. I confirmed that we did and took the opportunity to explain that I care for my land and the environment, not only because it's a good management practice, but also because I reside on the same land.
Source: Dairy Management, Inc.