paindecampagne

thoughts on food, culture, and community

Pride, belonging, and gratitude: All about…. Dairy Farming {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by Emily Fogelsanger, a writing major at Messiah College and a native of Shippensburg, PA. She grew up tending tomatoes, milking cows, and riding four-wheelers through sunlit fields, and she considers herself to be a better person because of it. Her favorite activities are climbing trees, eating ice cream, and hanging out with her sisters.

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The small, rural town of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, is not exactly a foreign location for many readers of this blog. But dairy farming — a lifestyle that acts as the backbone of Shippensburg, as well as the world — is not always thought of as what it is. It is a means of feeding nations and supporting families for generations.  However, to many people, a dairy farm is viewed as home to large, smelly animals and unruly kids just as degraded.  And let’s not forget the assumption that anyone who is raised on a farm is a “hick.”  Being raised on a family dairy farm myself, I’ve grown up hearing these misconceptions along with a few others, and I hope that this article clears some of them up.

The heifer (female) calves in the barn in the process of drinking their milk from their buckets (2013)

The heifer (female) calves in the barn in the process of drinking their milk from their buckets (2013)

1.  Anyone raised on a farm is a hick.

This is perhaps the largest and most common stereotype that I have noticed.  According to the Encarta Dictionary, a hick is someone who is lacking in education and sophistication. Perhaps this stereotype comes from the fact that many people raised on a farm have a different dialect or wear torn jeans and faded shirts.  I personally grew up saying ain’t instead of isn’t, crick instead of creek, aten instead of eaten, and minnie instead of minnow.  My high school classmates were always teasing me about the way that I talked, and it wasn’t until eleventh grade that I actually stopped being embarrassed about my dialect.  Even though I have now forced myself to speak “correctly,” occasionally a word or two slips past my radar and makes its way into a conversation.  But, understandably, when your family and community speak a certain way, it’s only natural that you do, too.

And of course the clothes we wear on the farm are faded or old; that is logical. Most farm work involves dirt, sweat, and cow manure, meaning that whatever you’re wearing is most likely going to end up with a couple stains or small tears.  When milking, I myself wear a T-shirt and a pair of jeans that have definitely seen better days.  But my milking clothes aren’t the only styles in my closet; like every other farmer’s child, I actually do have a sense of fashion.

And the bit about farmers’ lacking in education? The business side of a farm takes a highly skilled person to make important decisions.  Choices involving when to harvest the corn, whether or not an injured animal should be sold or should be subjected to expensive medication, and which type of feed is best for the cows all require a good deal of patience and often a large amount of research.  Working on a farm requires a TON of knowledge, and a lot of this knowledge is acquired hands-on, meaning that there is only so much that you can learn about a farm from books.

My favorite cow, number 181. 2011.

My favorite cow, number 181 (2011)

2.  Dairy farmers are cruel to their animals.

I’m not sure how this myth came about; perhaps it is a line that vegetarians use to try to keep people from eating animal products. But cows provide a farmer with his living. If a farmer didn’t take proper care of his cows, they would not give good-quality milk in return.  Dairy cows require plenty of fresh feed, water, and a supplement of grass for their diet.  In addition, their hooves need to be trimmed regularly so that they are comfortable and able to produce rich milk.  If a cow is not getting the amount of food or care that she needs, both the quantity and the quality of her milk decreases.

Dairy farmers need to be constantly alert for signs of mastitis, an inflammation in a cow’s udder that results from a bacterial infection; and pinkish sore spots located above a cow’s hoof knows as “strawberries” that can cause a cow to limp.  The life of the entire farm depends on the cows, and a true dairy farmer cares deeply about his animals.

A cow greets a newborn heifer calf that I had just delivered

A cow greets a newborn heifer calf that I had just delivered

3.  Raw milk is hazardous to your health.

I, along with my cousins, grew up drinking raw milk, and none of us suffer from mysterious illnesses.  Raw milk is the milk that comes straight from the cow, free from any added ingredients and still containing milk’s natural nutrients.  Pasteurized milk, the milk that is sold in stores, is milk that is processed by removing natural vitamins and adding artificial nutrients.

After talking to one of my friends who is afraid of drinking raw milk, I think that the biggest reason for this fallacy is that since cows are considered (by some!) to be dirty, unprocessed milk must be equally as dirty. However, the cow’s udder and milking equipment are both completely sanitized before milking begins.  Raw milk is so healthful that many people who are lactose intolerant are able to consume it, and it also is known to help cure diabetes and certain heart conditions.  Pasteurized milk may be what is sold in grocery stores, but in my family raw milk will always be a staple.

4.  Anyone who growing up on a farm has no social life.

Operating a farm requires work from morning to night, and some days we don’t get the opportunity to leave.  For us, milking begins at 5:00, twice daily, and it is usually finished around 9:00.  Additionally, if a cow goes into labor and needs assistance, or if another animal is injured and needs special attention, all less important plans are usually put on hold.  When a field needs to be planted or harvested before bad weather comes, the day can sometimes stretch as late as 11 P.M.

However, most farms nowadays have employees who can take some of the workload. This leaves time to take small vacations or to just take the evening off.  Farmers may have a lot to do, but with everyone working efficiently, there are plenty of opportunities that free up our lives.  Besides, working together every day allows strong friendships and trust to form, so during the days when no free time is available, a farmer’s relationship with his family and his workers provides the best kind of social life.

The large combine prepared to harvest a field of wheat

The large combine prepared to harvest a field of wheat

5.  There is no future in dairy farming.

This is a debatable topic, but I personally believe that there will always be a generation willing to be dairy farmers.  Some children raised on farms are interested in pursuing other lives, simply because dairy farming is extremely difficult and the monetary payback is often very slight.  Additionally, much of your livelihood depends on factors that are out of your control, such as the weather, crop and milk prices, and the health of the cows.

But in each family there is often at least one child who imagines no other way of making a living.  My one younger sister is one of these people who lives to farm, and I fully support her dreams.  In our nation, there will always be a demand for dairy and beef products; therefore, there will always be farms to supply them. Farming is not always easy, but in my opinion, there is no better way to grow up.

My sister Amy and her heifer calf, Spearmint (2013)

My sister Amy and her heifer calf, Spearmint (2013)

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Dairy farming isn’t a job; it’s a way of life.  I’ve seen my father and uncle stressed and exhausted day after day, but they always seemed contented.  I grew up running around half the year in my bare feet, and even now, at the age of eighteen, I still do.  I will always have a craving for ice cream, and I will never be able to fully function in the morning without a glass of milk.  Growing up on a farm has accustomed me to things that always stay the same; yet, at the same time, it has helped introduce me to being open to change. In dairy farming, the sense of pride, belonging, and gratitude will always remain.

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One thought on “Pride, belonging, and gratitude: All about…. Dairy Farming {a cultural project}

  1. I enjoyed reading this post but I object to the speculation that vegetarians spread myths that dairy farmers are cruel to their animals, which demonstrates as much misunderstanding of (and dislike for) vegetarians as it is trying to dispel about dairy farmers.

    The majority of vegetarians drink milk and eat dairy products, so while they might not love what happens to dairy cows when they stop (or slow down on) producing milk and are sold, they don’t seem to have an issue with how the milk-producing cows are treated.

    Additionally, even among those of us who don’t consume dairy (which can be for a range of reasons — I, for example, am lactose intolerant), those who meet the stereotype of the raving PETA activist who will condemn your meat-eating and try to convert you are much less common than those of us who are simply choosing one way of living/eating and will respect your own choices on that matter.

    I recently visited a dairy farm in my county to write a news article about their robotic milking system, and the farmer emphasized that he treats his animals well, in contrast to what he also said was a myth that dairy farmers don’t. I’m curious how often people actually say something about cruelty to animals to you/your family, because I’ve never heard any non-farmers say it about dairy farmers — even among my many vegetarian friends.

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