My new friend, Annie Link, spoke at the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich. today during the Partners Program. Annie is part of a multi-generational dairy operation called SwissLane Dairy Farms that is dedicated to their cows, the community and the environment. The dairy operation consists of 2,500 cows and 23 family members living within a two mile radius, working hard together every day to produce a high quality dairy product for consumers.
Recently, Annie and her family established the Dairy Discovery Tour, an agri-tourism venture that opens up their farm for tours. Schools, churches, foreign travelers and the media have come to tour the farm and learn more about food production. Recently, the Oesch family even hosted a neighbor night, with over 600 attendants at the farm. The event included a meal, a guest speaker and guided tours. The tour is so popular that during the summer months, Annie and her family welcomed over 75 groups and 3,000 visitors to their operation. These are true advocates for agriculture, and they are doing a great job of incorporating a new marketing approach to their thriving business.
Interestingly, Dr. Wes Jamison, a professor of animal welfare at the University of Florida, thinks that farms shouldn’t clean up before visitors arrive to the farm. Jamison spoke last night, and his topic was titled, “Animal Producers from Mars, Animal Lovers from Venus: Directing Agriculture through the curves of ethics, attitudes and expectations.” Dr. Jamison’s speech entered us into the minds of our opponents to better understand the reasons for this movement that is progressively changing the face of food production. Although Jamison gives props to operations like the Oesch family’s, he thinks the industry needs more transparency and openness to survive the animal rights movement and gain the trust of consumers, once again.
“Don’t just show them the pretty side of the farm,” said Jamison in his keynote speech. “Show them death; show them dirt; show them the rough side of food production. If we try to hide these things, the animal rights activists will expose and exploit these things for us. We need to be open and honest and tell our own story.”
So, what do you think? Should I start posting dehorning, castrating, vaccinating, weaning and calving videos on YouTube? Will this transparency backfire, or is it the secret to ending this movement before it’s too late? Curious minds want to know…