My husband, Lad, and I operate Hastings Dairy, which is located in northeast Ohio approximately 40 miles east of Cleveland and 20 miles south of Lake Erie.
Our farm is in Geauga County, which is a rural agricultural county known for the fourth-largest Amish population in the world. Lad and I are third-generation dairy producers who started this farm in 2004.
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We added agritourism to our dairy and farming operation in 2011. My passion is sharing the story of our farm and the benefits of consuming dairy products.I promote the dairy industry through hosting visitors at our farm, blogging, posting on Facebook, Tweeting, sharing videos on YouTube and maintaining our farm’s website.
This is our second year hosting visitors. In 2012, we have 10 special events planned at our farm: Dairy Days, Cow Tales Adventure and Storytime, Cow Camp, Dawgs at the Dairy, Dairy Farmer for a Day and more.
These events are open to the public. In addition to our special events, I host group tours by appointment.
This year, I’ve hosted a variety of groups including college nursing and dietetic students, Cub Scouts, Leadership Geauga, kindergarten classes, a chamber of commerce meeting, a child’s birthday party and summer camp groups.
I promote our special events on the Hastings Dairy website, through our county tourism bureau, brochures, newspaper ads, my blog/Facebook page and through word-of-mouth.
We started this agritourism venture because we believe people have a desire to experience a working dairy farm to see firsthand how milk is produced.
When visitors come to our farm, I take them into the milking parlor where they can watch the cows being milked and to the milk house where the bulk tanks are located to talk about milk quality and safety.
From there, we head out to one of the freestall barns and the calf hutches so people can see where our animals live and learn about the care they receive.
Most visitors come to our farm with an open mind. They might have an idea of what they expect to see, but I’ve encountered very few people who are against animal agriculture or critical of what we do.
Much attention is paid to anti-animal agriculture groups, which makes you believe there are many people who don’t support dairy farmers.
My experience has been the opposite – that people do support and trust dairy producers. People seem to have an interest in learning about dairy. Engaging in honest discussion builds trust in what we do on our farm.
There are some questions that I’m asked frequently: Do your cows go outside? What do cows eat? Should I be concerned with antibiotics and hormones in my milk? Why do you separate baby calves from their mothers after birth? Why are calves housed in individual pens? What happens to cows when they are no longer productive?
I answer these questions honestly and explain why we do what we do. People respond positively to candid answers.
I want people to see our cows are comfortable, healthy and well cared for. I want them to watch the cows walking voluntarily into the milking parlor to be milked, standing there chewing their cud while being milked and happily strolling down the lane back to their barn.
I want visitors to observe the peaceful freestall barns and how cows thrive in this environment and to witness content and healthy calves in their hutches.
I want people to leave our farm knowing all the steps we take to produce quality milk and feel good about serving dairy products to their family. I want people to know we operate a family business.
When we go into the freestall barn, many visitors are surprised by how calm and content the cows are and comment about how clean the barns and cows are.
Our cows and calves are very friendly and curious about the visitors. When the cows are done milking, they often hang out in the parlor watching the activity.
Sometimes they try to smell and lick the visitors, which is a big hit! One of the highlights of the tour is interacting with the calves. Everyone loves the calves.
When we opened for our first event in June 2011, we were not sure what to expect. I’m happy to say it has been a great experience for our family.
The people who have visited our farm really enjoy being there and seeing the cows and calves. They have lots of great questions and seem genuinely interested. Many of them tell us how lucky we are to live and work on a farm.
The Dairy Mom blog
Another way I connect with people about dairy is my blog. I started blogging as The Dairy Mom in March 2010 to share the story of our farm and address dairy topics in the news.
I use lots of pictures in my blog because it’s much easier, and more interesting, to follow a story with illustrations.
I have seven subject tabs on my blog which include animal care, dairy facts, environment, family farm, milk, dairy tours and events and community.
I discuss dairy topics that are making headlines, dairy products, family history, dairy statistics and all things dairy. Sometimes, readers’ comments give me ideas regarding what to write about next. I post a new blog every Tuesday.
Some of my most popular blogs have been “Milk’s Journey from Cow to Table,” “Content Cows Chew Cud,” “Do You Drink Milk?,” “Dairy Diet – What Do Cows Eat?,” “Twins are Born” and “Growing Up on our Farm – From Calf to Heifer to Milk Cow.”
I enjoy when people make comments on my blog and find value in the conversations I get to engage in with others. I welcome all comments, positive or negative, and do my best to respond to every one.
Hastings Dairy Facebook page
In fall 2010, I created the Hastings Dairy Facebook page to share information about what we’re doing on our farm, post stories from other dairy farmers and share positive news and research concerning dairy.
I also share a link to my weekly blog post via Facebook. I often post pictures of groups that visit our dairy. When I share something on Facebook, I always try to include a photo because I think people are more likely to read the post if it includes a picture.
People searching the Internet for dairy farms can find us at hastingsdairy.com. The Hastings Dairy website features pictures of our farm, information about the tours and events we offer, and a Connect with our Farm page featuring links to my blog and social media pages.
There is also a Just for Kids section with links to dairy fun facts, games and other kid-friendly dairy websites. The homepage of our website links to “The 5-Minute Tour of Hastings Dairy” on our YouTube channel.
So why is it necessary for dairy producers to make themselves available to the public? Today’s consumer has high expectations of the people who produce their food.
I recently read an article by social media experts listing the “7 Hottest Trends for Social Media Businesses,” and two of these trends hit home to me: people expect companies to be flexible and provide a human connection and they expect transparency, ethics and trust – they want to buy from companies that care about the planet and animals.
Are we in the dairy industry providing these things? I believe farmers do an excellent job of caring for land and animals.
Many of us share that story through social media and opening our barn doors to the public so they can see for themselves. But there is still work to do.
The majority of the population today is several generations removed from the farm. They have questions about the origin of their food including how animals are fed, housed and treated.
My goal is to provide accurate information about dairy to build consumer confidence in dairy farmers and the products we produce.
I want fellow moms to feel good about serving traditionally produced dairy products to their family. There is lots of misinformation available about animal agriculture, so it’s essential that we in production agriculture tell our story and not let someone else tell it for us. PD
Photos of farm tours at Hastings Dairy. Courtesy of Brenda Hastings.
Geauga County, Ohio