The Michigan Dairy Industry’s Commitment to Community
Michigan is certainly known for its agriculture, with varying growing seasons and products. But one of our state’s farming industries loves all four of our unpredictable seasons and is quick to tell you moo about it.
Bad puns aside, the Michigan dairy industry is the sixth largest in the country, which is nothing to laugh at. With over 11.6 billion pounds of milk produced annually by over 900 family farms, it takes more than luck to create this level of success.
“One of the reasons Michigan ranks number six in milk production is our cows actually give more milk than the industry average,” said Jolene Griffin, vice president of industry relations at United Dairy Industry of Michigan. “That’s due to the passion for the work and the commitment to improvement by our farmers.”
The relationship between dairy farmers and their cows isn’t one that simply sees the animals as a commodity. Many of these farms are owned and run by third- or fourth-generation farmers who deeply connect to the land and the animals that feed and produce on it.
“To me, being a dairy farmer is a privilege. Being responsible for the care of the land, animals, and people, and then to use those resources to produce dairy products is simply indescribable,” said Brian DeMann of Clearview Dairy Farm in Martin. “For half my life, I have had the opportunity to wake up and call myself a dairy farmer. Each day is as exciting as the next, and I am blessed not to consider this a job.”
Aubrey Lettinga-Van Laan, third-generation owner and operator of Walnutdale Family Farms in Wayland, echoes that sentiment.
Additionally, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan is invested in helping to educate citizens, particularly students, about the industry. Whether it’s about the cows themselves, habitats, food chains, nutrition, or how to be good stewards of the land, the farmers know that they are a part of something much bigger and are eager to share that their cows are front and center of their daily decisions and lives.
“It’s my way of life, and I don’t know a world without cows and manure. It means that every day the cows and what they need come first—that I don’t get a day off because the care of our cows and their needs come before other things,” said Lettinga-Van Laan. “I am blessed because the work I do feeds the world.”
Lettinga-Van Laan is right about feeding so many people. The surplus that isn’t bought and sold right here in Michigan is exported to states with high demand. Michigan’s dairy industry provides a livelihood for more than just the farmers. It generates jobs employing local veterinarians and nutritionists, equipment dealers, electricians, plumbers, contractors, and additional farm staff. One dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy.
“What drew me to dairy farming is that the job is a perfect mix of keeping me both physically and mentally active. I get to work outside while still having the challenge of solving the problems that come with owning a business and caring for animals,” said Katelyn Packard of Horning Farms in Manchester. “I am proud to be part of a business where I can work with my family each day to provide healthy and nutritious food for my community.”
Community seems to be at the very heart of our dairy industry. So, maybe look for Michigan-made dairy products next time you’re in the store. Grab the extra half-gallon of ice cream or pint of sour cream. And when you’re ordering your next pizza, you can thank a dairy farmer by splurging and going for the extra cheese.