Our intern, Ashley Schroeder, finished her summer internship with us last week. Here are her thoughts from the experience – including how working with WDA made her rethink what milk she buys!
I began my internship with WDA on June 20th. I had just finished up my second year at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly has a fantastic agriculture program and this led me to choose the school and to major in agriculture business. I don’t have any agriculture background but I took an interest in food production because I think it’s important to know where your food comes from. I specifically grew an interest in dairy after taking multiple classes in general dairy husbandry that included a hands on learning experience at Cal Poly’s own dairy on campus. I was intrigued to learn more about the industry and of course spend as much time as possible with any baby calf.
Kristin Tucker at WDA was my mentor during my internship. She took me under her wing and was persistent about making sure I was getting the most out of the internship. I had never worked in an 8-5 office setting before and it was an awesome learning experience to take part in the office culture. I participated in meetings and got to work on dairy industry projects with each department in the office. My goal when I graduate is to work in a position concentrating on marketing, advertising, or sales. Every project I got to work on this summer was great practice for my future goals. Some of my favorite projects included working with social media analytics, writing articles for the Dairy Connection, Fuel Up to Play 60 scripts, and filming dairy recipe tutorials.
I had the opportunity to tour three different sized dairy farms and learn about all the operations that go on. I toured the Docheff dairy, milking about 800 head, the Eldred’s Lost Creek Dairy, milking about 5,000 head, and the Cleland’s dairy, milking about 500 head. I saw firsthand how innovative and hard-working farmers are and how much they really care about their animals and their land. I was surprised at how many times they all recycled their water (about 7) until they finally used it to water the fields. They also collected the manure from their cows and used it for fertilizing field crops. Spending a day on each of these dairy farms showed me how sustainable and technologically advanced the agriculture industry is.
There were also many fun events I was able to participate in and represent WDA. These events gave me lots of insight to the attitudes of consumers on dairy and agriculture in general. A big event I worked was the Greeley Stampede with June, the animatronic cow from WDA. I got to meet and hear the personal stories of hundreds people who had been touched by dairy in some way. I also met people that had never even been near a cow or a farm and got to give them a dairy experience to remember. Other events I worked were bike to work day, the ACF Colorado Chef’s Association golf tournament, PBS kids fair, and national cow appreciation day at CSU. One of the most significant things I’ve learned from this internship is that when we give a consumer a connection to something, we build trust and most importantly, a relationship. By doing so, the consumer will feel good and prideful about their buying decisions and influence others to do the same.
The best part about this internship was the amount of new material I learned that helped change my perspective on the dairy industry. I would read daily news from Dairy Management Inc. about current events happening in the industry as well as many articles and research studies by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Before starting this internship I admit I was swayed by the media and bought all organic products, including milk. However, I learned from research studies that conventional milk, hormone free milk, and USDA- certified organic milk were all identical in their quality, safety, and nutritional composition! Dairy products are among the most tested and regulated foods in this country and I got to see this firsthand from the farms I visited. I’m glad I can now save the extra dollars when buying traditional milk.
In addition to milk quality and safety, I learned about its many nutritional benefits. Milk contains nine essential nutrients that are an important part of a healthy diet. These nutrients, along with high quality proteins and carbohydrates, are perfect for refueling and restoring your body after exercise. Drinking chocolate milk after every one of my workouts is such a satisfying and healthy reward.
I now realize there are millions of consumers that believe all the adverse articles and videos about the dairy industry just like I did and most of them are not as fortunate to be a part of this dairy experience that changed my whole outlook. And this is the challenge that the WDA staff is working so hard to resolve. They’re doing a great job at putting out research-backed, informative dairy promotions in addition to reaching out to give all consumers a connection to where their dairy comes from. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Western Dairy this summer and I will take my experiences and share them with others in the future to give them a dairy connection and story.