It’s hard to describe the feeling I had as I looked down at the weathered front page of our newspaper, published 102 years ago. It could have been awe. Disbelief. Amazement. We’d gone down a rabbit hole looking for inspiration for our dairy series — we found inspiration, sure, but it was more like affirmation. In large, bold type, sprawled across the top of the page.
The Farm and Dairy wasn’t always Farm and Dairy. It started as the Tri-County Farmer. And then, in 1916, the name changed. Farm and Dairy Profit, the banner read, for a couple of short years. During that time, tucked under the paper’s name was this tag line: “Devoted to The Advocacy of Profit Producing Methods for Farm and Dairy.” It evolved to even loftier language later: “A High Class Farm Monthly Devoted Primarily to The Advocacy of Profit Producing Methods for Farm and Dairy.”
We had been combing through the 1917- and 1918-era papers. When I read those words, Rachel and I looked at each other. Our eyes widened. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, we mused: Maybe this was destiny?
Here we are, more than 100 years later, launching what we hope is a comprehensive, approachable and straight-forward look at the state of the U.S. dairy industry today. That seems as lofty as our tag line from 102 years ago. But even as dairy topped the list of stories to dig into in-depth, we talked about how, in general, we wanted to focus on people who were doing things even just a little bit differently. And that’s what we’ve been doing over these past months: emphasizing the people who are forging their way forward in agriculture and farming. They’re making it work.
We’ve watched as other publications, national and international, swooped in over the past year or so and trotted out the sad farmer, as I outlined in a previous column. They’ve sketched the woes of the dairy industry in broad strokes. Stories have gone viral. The outrage about dairy’s demise has been palpable from the agricultural community and the general public alike.
Despite all of that, we couldn’t just settle. Honestly, we felt that most coverage hit the “easy” angles. We wanted to be willing to ask questions other journalists or industry insiders haven’t asked. And be open enough to consider all sides.
I believe Rachel’s stories have done that. I enjoyed her willingness to engage in a topic that is daunting even for those who live it every day. I’ve seen her spending countless hours poring over data sheets and talking with experts and farmers alike. While the rest of us — namely, Sarah — kept cranking out the paper, Rachel has been writing. And writing. And writing some more.
The name of our newspaper was shortened for brevity’s sake in mid 1918. The tag line wasn’t as prominent. But the purpose remained. Over the decades, through world wars, the Great Depression, commodity booms and busts, Farm and Dairy published advice to improve farming ventures and stories of farmers making it work, whether it was in dairy or something else.
The purpose of this series is not to solve the dairy industry’s problems or to brush them aside. But I think there is a lot of food for thought. This is your story, our story. It is the story of farming — perseverance, passion, resilience, flexibility and, hopefully, a good dose of pragmatism to balance everything out.
I look forward to unpacking it for you over the coming weeks.