Watching farmers become more active in connecting with the non-farm public is one of my great joys in life. It’s especially rewarding to see someone intensely focused on their farm business begin to understand the value becoming an advocate for agriculture. Yet, there are times when stubborn farmers make me want to bang my head against the wall. This post is to highlight one that will own up to the stubborn label and recently made me smile as I watched him share his farm story with hundreds.
Tejo Willemsen and his family moved to Indiana over a decade ago, grew his dairy to 1,500 cows and is as sharp of business man as you’ll find – on or off the farm. His cows enjoy fans and sprinklers that keep them cooler than humans, receive more nutritional counseling in a week than you’ve received in the last year and enjoy modern technology throughout their environment. In other words, it’s the top of the line of animal care – regardless of farm size.
He’s Dutch, but is quite Americanized in his love for the Colts and contributions in his local community. He and his wife live on the dairy with their three children, who you’ll also find in the barns. Tejo took a few minutes to answer questions after his family opened their barn doors for Brunch on the Farm in eastern Indiana. I’m hoping that other stubborn farmers might pick up some ideas from Tejo’s journey in advocacy.
1) You were once skeptical why advocacy should be important to you and your farm. What changed your mind?
Not sure I was really skeptical, but was more focused on the business and operational side of our farm. Then over the last few years I came to realize that things in the dairy business are changing so rapidly. With all that comes with those changes, we might lose the consumers understanding and appreciation of what dairy farmers really do. Also being around my kids, I couldn’t believe the stories and comments they brought home. I realized that in other cases – for other kids – the misinformation might be about food and where it comes from, education doesn’t stop at school so I decided to focus on that more.
2) What would you encourage other business-oriented farmers to consider about telling their story?
I would encourage them to be as open about things as you can. Farms have nothing to hide. That means open your mind and open your doors, it will pay off.
3) You have now hosted several major events. What do you really want to demonstrate to people who visit your farm?
I like to demonstrate what it really takes to make fresh wholesome milk, in a cow-friendly way. That they see how much there is behind their glass of milk, technology, cow care and handling, nutrition work, etc. Dairy farming is a complicated profession.
4) You’ve been asked hundreds of questions about animal care, housing, environmental stewardship, antibiotics, calving, milking, sustainability, etc. What have you learned?
I have learned that you can be asked questions what sound weird or out of touch to you – yes sometimes “stupid”. That means that we still have so much work to do in providing the consumers with correct information, etc. We live in an internet world, with lots of good information, but also false and poor information. Nothing is better than to show people a farm and cows in real life instead of on a computer screen.
5) What’s next as you look to give voice to modern dairy production?
I think we need to step it up. The world needs more and more food, which means we need to make more of it on the same carbon foot print or even less. We need to watch not to lose the consumers in this process and be open and share with them every step we make in this process.
Hear more from Tejo in this video we made the day that he hosted hundreds at Brunch on the Farm, in his own words. You can also find Willemsen Dairy on Facebook. If you’re one of the stubborn ones, I hope you’ll consider Tejo’s advice – we need to step up our voice for agriculture. Does that include you?