The following is my reflection on working in the dairy industry for the first time. For eight months, I served as an intern in the Communications Department of Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. During my internship, I wrote articles for DFA publications, created internal communications pieces, wrote press releases, created and maintained databases, monitored and generated social media activity and was involved in status and brainstorm meetings.
I hail from the Dairy State — Green Bay, Wis., to be exact. So, yes, I do love the Packers, cheese and milk. However, before working at DFA, I had no background in dairy farming. In fact, minus a school field trip, I’d never been to a dairy farm. So when I applied for an internship at DFA last spring, my friends and family were slightly surprised by my interest. To be honest, I’m not sure what caught my attention at the time, but I am glad something did. I feel incredibly privileged to have spent eight months working in the dairy industry, at DFA and alongside the great dairy farmers who feed this country.
In the beginning, my adjustment to the industry was a little stressful. I tried my best to learn the nuances of DFA — its core business of marketing member milk, its value-added investments and the commercial businesses. At the same time, I was trying to understand the industry — what various industry organizations did, how milk pricing worked, what the difference was between Class I, II, III and IV, etc. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to comprehend it all.
It took me some time, but once I got my feet under me, I had a blast. The experience that accelerated my learning curve and highlighted my time interning with DFA was a trip to Washington, D.C. In the nation’s capital, I accompanied Young Cooperators from DFA and other cooperatives during their meetings with state representatives. I also spent a day visiting with DFA members at R.A. Bell and Sons farm outside of Baltimore, Md.
I gained a new passion for the industry during my brief visit to the farm and Capitol Hill. I learned about the different issues affecting farmers, what 2009 was like for producers, the basics of dairy farming and, most importantly, what hardworking, moral and fantastic people dairy farmers truly are.
The experience made me think back to my second interview with DFA for the internship position. I remember asking the communications team members, “Why do you enjoy your job and choose to work at DFA?” The unanimous response was, “the farmer members.” For the first time, I knew what they meant, and from that day on, it was also my answer anytime I was asked a similar question.
Note: This column originally appeared in the 2010 Winter DFA Leader.