There’s a picture of me from the 1980s – long legs in shorts, long hair, a look of determination on my face. I’m pulling a dairy calf on a halter, trying to get her to lead so we can be ready for the dairy show at the county fair. The picture was taken sometime in June. It took months to get our animals ready for the fair. Every summer day meant taking the calves out on halter and preparing them for the show ring.
During those June days of long ago, I didn’t know it was June Dairy Month. I didn’t know dairy farmers across the country were celebrating by meeting with community members, participating in community events or building giant ice cream sundaes. I just knew that I had to halter-train my calf and that my dad was working long days, milking the cows in the morning and the evening and in between spending hours on the tractor, planting crops and cutting hay. He didn’t have time to promote dairy foods or talk to his neighbors about what he was doing. He was just doing.
Cut to a few years later – the mid-1990s. Now I have a sash and a crown and I’m the county dairy princess. June means traveling from one end of the county to the other, being in parades, giving out samples of milk or cheese, building one of those giant ice cream sundaes and serving milk punch at farmer meetings. I start to realize the importance of the month, of the celebration, and learn its history.
Started in 1937, National Milk Month as it was originally called, focused on increasing milk sales during peak milk production time on the farm. Over the years, the focus shifted to promoting dairy foods and the name officially became June Dairy Month.
Over 80 years later, why are we still celebrating this month? Believe it or not, dairy farmers are still a vital part of this country’s rural communities. Dairy farmers contribute to the economic vitality of their communities, they are job creators, community leaders and on top of all this, they produce wholesome, natural milk.
We should celebrate dairy farmers! They have endured years of low prices for their product while the cost to produce it has continued to rise. They endure slander from animal-rights activists, environmentalists, and vegan communities. All who don’t understand or care to understand how farmers care for their land, their cows and the environment.
To be a dairy farmer is to have a love of the land, of animals, of tradition and family. If you want to make a lot of money, dairy farming isn’t a profession you would choose. The hours are long, the work is hard and dirty and thankless. Everyone these days seems to be against you. Dairy farmers do what they do because they believe in the food they are producing and want to create a heritage for their family.
So, do dairy farmers still need a whole month of celebration? Absolutely. Let’s take a whole month and celebrate each farmer, each farm kid, milk, cheese, yogurt and of course, ice cream. Dairy foods are some of the purest, most nutritious and delicious foods available. They are real and natural; minimally processed and represent a way of life most people can only dream about.
I’m proud to have participated in many June Dairy Month celebrations. From my days as a dairy princess to my professional life where I built many a giant ice cream sundae. I encourage you to take a minute to think of the work that goes into your glass of milk and the dairy farm family behind it. This month is a perfect time!