The Dairy Farmer’s Pledge



A friend shared  The Grown Woman’s Pledge this week, and as I read it, I couldn’t help but hear a different pledge echoing back at me through Dr. F. Emelia Sam’s words. This is a pledge for dairy farmers. Canadian dairy farmers specifically. It goes a little like this:

I’m tired.

Tired of being criticized to no end in the media. Tired of watching grown farmers act like helpless children. Tired of atrocious finger pointing. Tired of polarizing depictions of free trade utopia and family farm demise. Tired of the moral judgements. Tired of the  politicking. Tired of the overall dumbing down of dairy farmers.
But most of all, I’m tired of the way that far too many of us have come to view ourselves and subsequently treat each other.
Who’s responsible?
Processors? Pizzerias? Media? Dairy leadership? The government?
We can challenge and change all the policies we want and hide from all the external threats we can imagine. But, at the end of the day, nothing matters if we don’t address our internal beliefs. We all know that nothing really changes if we don’t change ourselves and our selves are all we have control over, anyway.
Whether supply management “should” or “shouldn’t” be changed, whatever. Shouldn’t we leverage our strengths? Strengths like highest-in class quality, globally-sought after genetics and abundant arable land and freshwater? Shouldn’t we claim a leadership position on the global dairy stage? Should we allow ourselves to be put in a corner by outsiders or stand-up and show the world we CAN do this? Shouldn’t ALL Canadians have access to healthy, affordable dairy products whenever they want them, wherever they want them and however they want them?
Yeah, yeah. I’m supposed to be firm in my position that our system doesn’t rely on taxpayers’ dollars, provides a fair return for farmers and ensures reliable and consistent milk supply… blah, blah, blah. Sometimes you just have to call it like you see it.
There is dysfunction when it comes to any market in this world and no system is perfect. Yet, many have mistaken this reality for a raison d’etre — they are so accustomed to the mantra, they have let it define who they think they are as a dairy farmer in Canada. It’s time to stop internalizing the non-stop excuses and act like the leaders we are.
So, if you are a dairy farmer, take the pledge. If you aspire to be a dairy farmer in 10 years, take the pledge. If you couldn’t care less what happens to your industry, you’re the one who needs to take the pledge most of all.
Like it. Share it. Most all, live it. We can do better.
1. Other dairy farmers are not my competition.
Enough you/me, big/small, here/there. Until there is more demand for Canadian milk (re: market growth), there will be no more quota for you, me, him or her. It is up to us to create room for more farmers — not elbow each other out.
2. I admit that gossip is pointless. (This is verbatim from Dr. Sam, and it applies here too.)
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt (a debated credit, but I’m going with Eleanor). Which mind do you have? Or are you just out of your mind?
3. I acknowledge that dairy farming is self-defined.
Store feed in a silo or a bunk. Milk cows with robots or don’t. Choose fancy cows or don’t. There’s a spectrum of dairy farmers and there will always be those with bigger and fancier. The only comparison you need to make is how you used to be and how far you’ve come. Do what you do.
4. I recognize that farmers have value at every age.
Respect and learn from not only those who have gone before you but those who wish to come after you. This industry’s strength was built on the grit and determination of thousands of great farmers, and it will soon be bore by far fewer, who are no less passionate.
5. I do not use my emotions as an excuse (to act the fool).
Emotions expose passion and sincerity. They can be shared, but don’t use them to fight an economist. You’ll lose every time.
6. Take pride in your cows and land.
We have beautiful cows and farms. It has become part of who we are, and it sets us apart (along with a many other strengths). Never compromise looking after your cows and land.
7. I will show up.
There are no easy answers and tough decisions will be required. Read the reports, talk to fellow producers and attend your milk producers meeting to ask questions and learn. Understanding is participating.
8. I always speak in my true voice.
Your voice is worthy of being heard. There is never any need to downplay the important job you do everyday, but remember you are owed nothing by consumers – they choose to to purchase dairy or not.
9. I am a community hero.
Beneathe the coveralls you are a compassionate, determined, smart and generous being. You’ve donated over 10 million liters of milk to the food bank and countless hours to local service clubs, your kids’ teams and agricultural organizations.
10. I will put my customer first
This means working with not only processors but retailers, restaurants and food service to get everyone the product they need so more people can enjoy dairy. All they need is cheese. So let’s give it to them.

Do any of these resonate with you? Which parts of the oath have challenged or continue to challenge you? If you feel confident in your farmer status, feel free to share your wisdom. We need each other.

Adapted from Dr. F. Emelia Sam, “The Grown Woman’s Pledge”, The Third Metric, Huff Post, March 10, 2014

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