I must admit, I’m not a dairy person. Less than a year ago, I was sitting in a courthouse covering trials for a daily newspaper. I’ve covered education, municipal news, community features. I’ve pretty much done it all.

But I’m not a total greenhorn when it comes to agriculture. I grew up farm adjacent, and I married a fourth-generation farmer. We help manage the family farm, where we raise beef cattle and sheep.

Shortly after I started working at Farm and Dairy, the opportunity came up to jump into the dairy beat. I knew it was not going to be an easy one, but I jumped in anyway. I love a challenge.

The jump was more like a belly flop than a swan dive. Dairy is complex. There’s a lot of history. There are a lot of opinions and emotions that get mixed in with the facts. There’s an enormous legacy that you can’t ignore. But you also can’t ignore how things are changing.

I could’ve done stories here and there, hitting the high points and low points as they came up. But instead of piece-mealing it together over time, we realized there was an opportunity to tell the story of modern dairy in a comprehensive way, all at once. To explore the “whys” and the “hows.”

I’m an outsider looking in, and I think that’s been a good thing. I came at this with a fresh and open mind. I wanted to ask questions, listen and see where that led me.

So I’ve spent countless hours interviewing farmers, government officials and experts, reading reports and studies, parsing through numbers and visiting farms of all sizes to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I’ve done my best. And here it is. This series represents what I’ve learned over the past three months.

Thanks to the team that helped me bring this series to life. David Hartong designed the print series. Tammy Reese designed the web series. Rebecca Miller and Aimee Tenzek read and edited hundreds of inches of copy. Photographer Lucy Schaly captured the scenes, as did Rebecca. Jordan Roberts and Sara Welch helped out with the website. Heather Finsley did some research. And last but not least, my fellow reporter, Sarah Donaldson, kept pumping out stories to fill the paper while I focused on this series. Thanks to you all.

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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