Real Faces of Dairy: Bridging the Gap Between Farmers and Consumers

April 17, 2017 02:34 PM

Consumers today have plenty of questions when it comes to the farm. Jessica Ziehm, co-owner of Tiashoke Farms in Buskirk, N.Y., specializes in giving the answers.

“This is kind of like the class of 2019 for our farm,” said Jessica. “This is the future of our dairy farm. We want to be able to monitor these guys very closely.”

Whether it’s explaining how to milk a cow or describing how the cows enjoy their own pedicures, Jessica’s goal is to educate consumers about life on a dairy operation.

“Consumers haven’t always seen along the way because consumers haven’t always been interested in where their food is coming from,” she said.  “This is kind of a new area of interest for consumers.”

Bridging the gap between consumers and farmers is the goal for Jessica and her husband, Stuart, milk more than 1,100 cows.

The family’s operation has been in the business more than 50 years. They are telling their story by opening their doors and answering questions for the public.

“When you work hard every day to do the best job you can with your animals and also with your crops, there’s no conversation that’s off limits or should be uncomfortable,” said Stuart.

“If we don’t start showing the public what it is that we’re doing, they’re going to have more questions. It’s going to become further removed from the farm,” said Jessica.

Jessica takes that job of magnifying the public perception from the barn to her office.

She’s the executive director of the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports dairy farms and also tries to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation for modern animal agriculture.

“There’s no separation between church and state in our household,” said Jessica. “My job is the farm and the farm is also my job. The two go hand in hand.”

She acts as both a cheerleader and coach for dairy farmers as she thinks of creative ways farmers can interact with the public and bridge the gap between the farmer and consumer.

One way she does this is by producing newsletters for dairies, including her own.

The project has been an easy, effective and budget-friendly way to release a personalized, local message. 

She also helps farmers with how to address difficult, hurtful comments online.

“We are looking for productive conversations,” said Jessica. “We’re asking questions of [consumers] and they’re being respectful. There are times when you have to cut your losses and know we’re not going to change this person’s mind.”

Letting people into an operation and informing them about life on the farm isn’t always an easy task, but Jessica encourages farmers to listen.

“The public can handle it,” said Jessica. “They can handle the truth. What they can’t handle is looking for answers and having a farmer say they’re not going to take about that.”

Wrong or no information makes people fearful, according to Jessica.

In a state where there are 19 million consumers and 5,000 dairy operations, there are a lot of questions.

Jessica also started up a birthing center at the New York State fair four years ago to help tell dairy’s story.

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