Friday, December 20, 2013

New Direction for a Digital Dairy Diva

This blog has been left hanging, as I left my place at my family farm and moved more deeply into a realm where my true strengths lie: communications. I really, really enjoy writing, and social media has allowed me to use my talents and create an income base, right from home. Sometimes I wish I could write while moving around (that's when I miss milking cows!), as being stuck at a desk for long periods of time is probably the greatest drawback to my profession; but every occupation has it's disadvantages, and I surely wouldn't trade mine.

Truly, I thought this blog was dead. Lately I've been thinking, perhaps, it has a higher purpose than I originally intended. The roots of this path can be traced back 20 years, when I became a dairy princess. 

At 18, I felt reluctant (to say the least!) about donning a crown, dress (and pantyhose - ACK!!) and parading around like, well... like a princess. As I thought about my speech for pageant, it became clear that I did have an agenda. I realized the personal importance I placed on farmers representing themselves. Being a rather independent sort myself, I didn't think it was a wise choice to place all of your promotional eggs in one basket. The same is true today. Farmers are busy, busy people (as most independent business owners are!), and many don't attend to their advertising. When you have an nationwide organization such as the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council (ADADC) doing the heavy lifting for you, it's easy to think you don't have to worry about promoting your farm.

The caveat to that is, the ADADC is promoting milk, they are not promoting your individual farm. Truly, only you can do that. I believe there is a lot of value in doing so.

My premise 20 years ago remains today. Every farm has a unique quality that is marketable, and may result in a secondary source of income! When you make your business shine apart from the rest, people will come to you and open up a wealth of new opportunities. No matter if it is selling bull calves out of your barn or expanding a cheesemaking hobby, your farm has something that sets it apart from everyone else. I am sure of it!

The advantage we have today is the digital forum. The Internet hosts a wealth of possibilities from web pages and blog to social media networks, and many of these outlets will cost you no more than the investment you have already made in your Internet Service Provider. Hence, a new path has been born for every business on the planet, and there is absolutely no reason the dairy industry should be left behind!

So, if you are up for a little trip with me, I'd like to help you guide your personal media campaign. I promise you, it is not hard! To do it right, you need to put a little forethought and planning into your actions. I'll take you through that, too. Together, we can put dairy on the map in a whole new way.

Are you in?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Of Farming, Fairs and Fair Views...

A Note from the Diva:
Though I no longer am milking cows, the farm will always be a place my heart resides. I miss this blog dearly! However, I am a bit out of the loop with the daily dairy dealings, so I have asked a dear friend of mine to step in and guest blog for me. I got to slip back into my boots a time or two last week and help out while my family managed their exhibit at our county fair, so I am thrilled that my friend Valerie has shared this post today about the value of this always memorable summer event. Enjoy, and thanks, Val! 

Many thanks to my former 4-H cohort and friend, Heather Gregory, for asking me to guest author a post in Diary of a Barn Diva. It is a privilege and honor to be here!

As I write this, I am coming down from the annual high of the Chautauqua County Fair.

I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of people that grow up on a farm; those who can’t wait to leave and those who never leave. My sister is definitely in the former group. My mother used to joke that when my sister was a kid she’d say, “What? There’s a train leaving? When? Where’s it going?” She now happily resides and thrives in the suburbs of Chicago. The three brothers never ventured very far away. Two of them make their living from family dairy farms and the other raises heifers. I guess I fall somewhere in-between the two categories. I left, but did I really leave?

I can’t be positive, but I don’t think I’ve missed a single Chautauqua County Fair in my 41 years. By the time I was born, my oldest brother was in 4-H and I just assume that I was brought to the fair as an infant/toddler. What I know for sure is that I have not missed a single fair since I was nine years old, the youngest age at which one may join 4-H. The 4-H program is definitely part of what molded me into the person I am today, hence my intrinsic need to return to the fair every year since I “graduated” the program *gasp* 23 years ago.

Peace and Belonging

Twenty-three years has brought a lot of experiences, some good, some … not so good. College, marriage, work as a herdsman, divorce, employment in the biotech industry, lay-off, employment in the pharmaceutical industry, rounding back into the dairy industry, re-marriage. All through this journey, the farm stayed near and dear to my heart. While working at the pharmaceutical, I was given an amazing opportunity to spend a month in Switzerland to help at a facility there. After two weeks, I decided that I would always regret it if I didn’t make a trip to see the Swiss Alps. I ventured off alone on a two hour drive in a country where I spoke none of the three native languages. As beautiful as the countryside was and as much as I was enjoying the opportunity to be there, I was homesick. When I’m homesick, I don’t mean homesick for the house in which I happen to reside, I mean I’m homesick for the farm; the place where my heart is always filled with a certain sense of peace and belonging. 

After about an hour and a half, I stopped at an overlook to take a picture of the breathtaking mountains in front of me. I was steadying my camera when I heard a faint ringing. I lowered my camera and scanned the horizon, trying to determine what the sound was. And then I saw them. A whole herd of Brown Swiss cattle, all of them with cow bells on. It was the most amazing sound. In that moment, I was filled with joy and there was one person that I couldn’t wait to call and tell about my experience – Dad. I later drove directly past that herd of cattle and stopped, got out and pet one of the cows. She was the happy recipient of a good scratching behind the ears and I was the contented recipient of cow odor on my hands. My boss would later say, “Valerie, you’re the only person I know who we send 4,000 miles away on business and you end up finding farm animals.”

My Brown (and Swiss Native!) Bovine Friend
These days my employment keeps me a bit more in touch with my roots as I work in Quality Assurance at a milk facility. I’ve found a nice balance. I love that I know some of the milk truck drivers from my previous life on the farm and that I know what goes into producing quality raw milk.  I also love the technical and regulatory aspect of what goes into making milk products for grocery shelves. I am the resident “dairy farm expert.” Of the current population in the United States, less than 1% claim farming as an occupation and about 2% actually live on farms. Using that factoid and knowing that there are approximately 315 employees at my current place of employment, that means about six people at my work grew up on a farm. My boss is originally from Brooklyn. He’s a great guy with a lot of knowledge, but when he was on vacation and drove past a field of “Oreo Cookie Cows,” he excitedly called me and wanted to know what they were. (For those of you scratching your head and wondering what an Oreo Cookie Cow is, look up the Dutch Belted).

Every year I take at least two days of vacation to spend at the fair. Each year as I drive there, my heart starts pounding faster as I near the thruway exit that will lead to a most magical place filled with memories of hard work, bonding with others, winning some, losing some, harmless pranks and falling in love for the first time. The years melt away as I pick up a pitch fork and hoist manure into a wheelbarrow. Ah, yes. That is what a vacation should be.

So now you know for sure that the saying is true. You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Share It, Baby!

Take it from me and Cookie Monster, don't forget the skim milk!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Diva Left the Barn... The Barn Hasn't Left the Diva

I've had precious little reason to mention my passion for yoga in this blog. Writing has been a key component to my personal journey of self-exploration, once the kids took off on their personal adventures in elementary school, yoga has been the other. I worship on the altar of body-with-breath, and in that mental space, my mind quiets and the spirit comes to me. I have faith in things I cannot see and before this phase of my life, barely could bring myself to believe in. Faith has been a really rocky road for me, though so many of my friends and family are so unshakable in theirs... the tragedies of life pulled me far, far away from mine.

Yoga has brought me many good things. A refined focus on life, a clearer mind and, though it has been another rocky road, a much happier home for my spirit to reside - in both structural senses.

Recently, yoga brought me an incredible job offer.

I now work from home for Namaste TV I get to do yoga and write about it for a living! When the whole thing was in progress, I was in this land of 'Wow! I can't believe they even thought of me for this! How nice! What an honor!' My position had not yet been created. If you know anything about the ever-intricate land of Corporate-ville, creating a position can be a longer process than the life cycle of a tortoise.

You can imagine my mental status when, just about a week after the idea was entertained, I had a job offer... I nearly required a loader tractor to lift my jaw off the floor!

We're in an adjustment phase now; but really, I am living a dream! The kids go to school and I am in yoga land... doing it, breathing it, learning more, writing about it. What a thrill!

To make room for this thrill, I had to let go of my post at the farm though. I thought I'd miss the cows more. I do miss the hours of mingling and moving with and through the cows (except when the movement is kicking), I miss the air (isn't that hard to believe? It's true!) I miss the people I milked with. But I LOVE this work! It's working out for the family as well, as I am home, showered and ready to tackle homework (and often dinner is already in progress!) by the time the kids get off the bus.

I mentioned we're in an adjustment phase... oh, yes, we are.

Farm income was weekly. Freelance income is monthly. Therefore, we have a few weeks of unavailable income to get through. So I am revisiting something I rather enjoyed before I returned to the barn... being a "Frugal Gourmet".

The kitchen may as well be a science lab as I use the most basic ingredients to make things you wouldn't think could be made at home. Laundry detergent, anyone? Yup, you can (and many thanks to some great gal-pals who shared that little tidbit!) Homemade granola and caramel corn, like my grandmother used to make and I LOVED! Today (and the reason for the blog entry) it's homemade coffee creamer.

This is so easy it is sad. I had to share. I can't tell you how many times in the last few years I have run to the store SOLELY for coffee creamer. Not doing that again! The first recipe I ever used came from Frugalvillage

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 Cups Skim Milk

You can flavor with these:
Chocolate Almond: 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder, 1 tsp almond extract
Vanilla: 2 tsp. vanilla extract
Cappuccino: 1 tsp. almond extract, 1/2 tsp. orange extract (GOOD Stuff!)
Strudel: 1 TBSP cinnamon, 1 tsp. vanilla extract 1 tsp. almond extract
Chocolate Raspberry: 2 tsp. cocoa powder, 2 Tbsp. Raspberry syrup

Measure all into a 32. oz. container (with cover) seal and shake. You can store in the 'fridge for up to two weeks.

Today, I got adventurous and made my own recipe. I mixed 24 oz. Fat-free half & half with 1 Tbsp cocoa powder and 3 Tbsp. Hazelnut syrup. The powder didn't mix into the cold half & half so great, so next time I will probably add some homemade chocolate syrup (my next project for the day) It stirred into my coffee just fine though.

So there you go. I haven't posted in months; but the Barn Diva is still around. Out of the barn and onto the mat... but never out of the dairy! Make sure you show the gals in the barn (and your body!) some love and get your proper servings too!
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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Watercolor and Whitewash

Sometimes, I feel sorry for people whose occupations are so image oriented. Politicians, executives, celebrities... they are forced to focus on the minutia of life. Who-said-what? How does this make me look to this other image-obsessed person whom I must report to in order to make myself seem bigger/more important? OH! We can't use THAT word because it might give off THIS message when the message really needs to be THIS! Not because that is what is accurate, but because that is what puts the best possible light on This Thing that everyone already knows is a spade; but we need to make it look like a diamond.




Get real!

Field work is going on outside my door. People who, as fast as their eyes pop open and they plant their feet in their shoes, are out the door and on a tractor. They are tilling and planting; painting the earth with a base coat of seeds that will mingle with the brown soil and the clear rain and the warm sun and give rise to the most saturated green leaves and soft golden tassels, rich purple and sweetly scented, bright white blossoms! They work in the dust and the warmth of a sunny afternoon, long into the damp and cooling evenings. Long past the point of tired. Long past the concern of being dirty, sweaty and sore from riding across bumpy fields for endless hours. Way beyond their own image, with only the goal of getting it done in their determined minds.

It's got nothing to do with image or what career move is now possible because this-or-that was said or not said.

And here I stand, the color commentator. Smack in the middle of it all. Appreciative, amused, accepting, and a little annoyed. Let me splash a little color around, if I may.

Every image oriented person on this earth should have the PRIVILEGE of working in a 'field capacity' for a week or a month of their lives, at least every year. When they got done, how worried would they be about this word or that sound bite? What would they find more rewarding? How important would the ladder be, after spending some time at ground level? Would greasing the wheels seem as important to them as greasing an axle? Maybe more, maybe less...

There is a difference between living and surviving. Highly paid professionals LIVE a more affluent lifestyle as a general rule than those who earn their keep in a more basic nature... but their SURVIVAL is more dependent on the opinion and influence of the people around them, their survival is harder to predict, because opinions and intentions change from moment-to-moment.

Those who exist in a more elemental world SURVIVE (and allow others to survive) because of what they do with their hands, bodies and brains. They live with less material opulence; but they LIVE with the satisfaction of putting a tired body to bed at the end of the day and a mind that knows the job has been done and done well. The result of that day does not depend on someone else's opinion. Their annual evaluation will happen as brown fields turn green, get tall and yield crops as a result of their efforts.

That kind of quantification I understand.

That's real to me.

I'm off to play with a little white paint... but when I am done with that, I am going to milk cows.

I hope you can enjoy your day as much as I am going to enjoy mine!

Keeping it real.

Your's Most Truly,
The Barn Diva.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Princess Gets a Diva Makeover

Tomorrow will find me giving a presentation on dairy farming to a class of Kindergarteners. WHEW! FLASHBACK! I spent an entire Thanksgiving and spring break doing this, half a lifetime ago.

Those were my days as a county dairy princess. We have touched on this topic here, but I haven't really gone into what a dairy princess does. (Yes, they still exist!) The county princess serves as a public relations figure for the dairy industry. Of course, there are the smile-and-wave, brainless events; but there are also news articles to write, public service announcements to record for local radio, speeches to give and classrooms to educate. As a young about-to-be communications major, this was a year of personal growth for me.

The Kindergarten classes were where some of the best memories were created! This was mainly due to the part about this whole job I really disliked the most: The Getup. Oh, yeah. Because you CANNOT be a princess without a crown and sash! And, as much as I tried to convince my committee otherwise, a skirt or dress was a must. With Pantyhose. OH. CRAP.

My jeans and flannel shirt wept for me... My grandmother wanted to weep too, as I became rather expert at getting out of that costume and into said comfy clothes in the front seat of her car while she was driving, regardless of the locale of the road we were currently traversing! I'm sure that car was pretty interesting to more than a few truck drivers in the lanes beside us that year...

But, the crown, the dress and pretty shoes equal a REAL PRINCESS to a five-year-old. I would sit and tell them the story of "Dairee the Cow" and, inevitably, feel a tiny hand rubbing my "Leggs" encased shin. Then, there were the stories. Anyone who has had the pleasure conversing with a five-year-old knows that for every story you have to share, they have an equal-in-interest, double-in-length story for you!

My grandmother always came to my appearances with me. I'll never forget the one school where a child asked me why the cows behind her house liked to give each other piggy back rides... Poor grandma went white, wondering what my reply would be! That question was immediately followed by a little boy who informed me (and mind you, this was a city school) that his father was also a farmer and milked bulls and dogs and fish.

So tomorrow, this rural classroom will get the princess routine The Diva Way. No crown or sash... I may even be dressed for work as I have to be in the barn 15 minutes after the close of my presentation! The Diva has mom experience The Princess did not have. She knows that the only thing equal to the magic of a crown and sash is the hands-on experience of seeing a real milking machine and holding the equipment a farmer uses to milk a cow. The Diva also knows that little cubes of cheese placed before eager eyes will ensure attentive listeners, and a successful visit.

This one is going to be fun. I'll keep you posted on how it all turns out.