If your local grocery store shelved bananas next to bratwursts, would you assume that bananas were made from pork? How about if they sold pasta sauce next to salad dressing; would you start slathering marinara on your spinach?
However absurd these assumptions may seem, when conducting her Young Dairy Leadership Institute (YDLI) consumer interviews about dairy purchasing habits, each person with whom Laura Shoemaker spoke told her about buying eggs. Sure, eggs are often sold near milk, but they certainly don’t come from cows. This simple, yet surprisingly common mistake epitomizes the need for consumer education about the dairy industry.
YDLI, a program hosted by the Holstein Foundation, strives to do just that: educate consumers and advocate on behalf of the industry, while also providing professional development in leadership and communication skills for individuals between the ages of 22 and 45 who work in the dairy industry.
As an appraiser for Farm Credit East and a life-long dairy farmer, YDLI was a perfect fit for Laura who sought a professional development opportunity that would equip her with the skills she needed to be successful at Farm Credit, while also focusing on a topic about which she was passionate: dairy.
Prior to her participation in the program, Laura’s love for the dairy industry had been centered within her work on the farm and her role at Farm Credit. However, one of her first YDLI assignments is to introduce herself to local lawmakers and media personnel, volunteering to serve as an expert to be consulted on dairy-related issues. Though she’d never thought about communicating with policymakers before, Laura looks forward to the opportunity to share her knowledge with others. She said, “This year we had some political turn over in different parts of the state, so it offers a great opportunity to meet some of those people and be a resource for them.”
Moreover, Laura sees it as her responsibility to speak up on behalf of her industry and feels ready to do so, thanks to YDLI. She said, “Farmers don’t always have time to go out and educate the public on what they’re doing. They’re busy farming.”
In addition to benefiting the industry as a whole, YDLI teaches participants valuable skills that they can utilize in their work, both on and off the farm. Farm Credit associations across the country believe in the strength of a well-trained staff and regularly support employees who wish to participate in YDLI. Heather Hunt, who serves as a knowledge exchange and communications specialist at Farm Credit East also graduated from YDLI and now mentors others in the program. She said, “Our staff is our resource; they’re our most valuable asset here at Farm Credit.”
For example, YDLI helped Laura to identify her personal communication style and consider how her preferences impact her interactions with others. Back in the office, Laura put this self-awareness to work. She said, “I’ve been trying to slow down, listen, find out what the issue is, be a little more positive and find a way to resolve the problem. If they have an idea, I try to find out what their goal is and work with them to get there.”
YDLI also ensures that Farm Credit employees stay up-to-date on current conversations among consumers. “Farm Credit sponsored me to go through this program because they understand the value of making sure that employees develop direct connections with consumers… and it’s a great way to make connections within our industry,” said Heather.
From educating consumers about where their milk comes from, to advancing young professionals’ leadership and communication skills and advocating for the dairy industry, Farm Credit is proud to partner with YDLI and support emerging agriculture leaders across the country.