Today, it is my honor to introduce a friend of mine Jolene Griffin of Okemos, Michigan. Jolene grew up on a dairy farm in Hastings, MI where she learned from two of the best dairy farmers she knows, her parents. Valley Grove Dairy Farm has 210 Holstein cows and is managed by Jolene’s parents and her brother. They farm over 800 acres of corn, hay and beans to feed their cows throughout the year.
Growing up, Jolene’s farm chores included feeding calves, milking, landscaping, running errands, helping with vaccination protocols, etc. She admits, she learned to hard work, even though she didn’t appreciate it. Another very important thing, like many other farm kids, she learned how to put the needs of others before mine, the cows always come first! 4-H was a big part of Jolene’s life, she loved showing cows. Between Jolene and her brother, they usually had at least 10 animals at our county fair. This summer, Jolene’s niece showed her first heifer at the fair. As a proud Aunt, she admits that she’s excited to watch her and her siblings as they embark on this adventure and hope they enjoy it as much as I did!
Jolene graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s in Agriculture Communications. Go green! Currently she works for the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, the dairy promotion that works on behalf of Michigan dairy farmers to promote milk, cheese and yogurt, and to help consumers know the dairy farmers in our state take great care of their cows and the products they produce. I love sharing dairy’s story!
Jolene’s Story in her own words:
What is your role in the dairy industry?
I work for the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, the dairy promotion that works on behalf of Michigan dairy farmers to promote milk, cheese and yogurt, and to help consumers know the dairy farmers in our state take great care of their cows and the products they produce. I love sharing dairy’s story!
Dairy has been in my blood from a very early age! I love that I am able to work with the farmers who create the milk, cheese and yogurt and I get to connect with the consumers who enjoy those products.
What is your favorite dairy product?
Milk is my favorite dairy product. It can be made into so many great things: cheese, yogurt, ice cream!
My favorite recipes are a No-Bake Cookie recipe that was my great-great grandmother’s that uses milk and butter. And homemade macaroni & cheese that my mom makes! Click here for a very similar recipe.
Who is your favorite cow?
My favorite cow was the only heifer born to my first show cow; her name was Valley Grove Blackstar Jasmine. She was spoiled! We fed her cookies and she expected them each time someone went into the barn. She had 10 calves, 8 of them were heifers so many of the cows in my family’s herd are traced back to Jasmine. She had the most unique markings of a Holstein, all black with a white swish on her forehead, some of her granddaughters and great granddaughters have similar markings.
Although all our cows are Holsteins, and so was Jasmine, my favorite breed is Brown Swiss. I love how big and docile and stubborn they are. In fact, I rebelled at the age of 16 and bought a Brown Swiss heifer at a calf sale!
What are 3 things you want consumers to know about the dairy industry?
When I was talking with Mary about this series, I mentioned I would have a hard time narrowing it down to 3 things, so here’s my attempt! Editor’s Note: Jolene helped me write the questions for the series. J
- Dairy families work hard to take care of their animals and ultimately the milk, cheese and yogurt. Every day the cow’s needs come before our own needs or those of our family. Christmas presents, Birthday parties and other holidays are worked around chore time. In fact, vacations are few and far between. Just this weekend my brother & I were reminiscing about the fact that we did not go to Disney or anyplace like that on vacation and we’re grateful that our vacations revolved around the farm, it taught us how to prioritize our responsibilities. We visited World Dairy Expo every few years to see the latest technology and products in the dairy industry and that meeting still has a special place in our hearts!
- The milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, sour cream, etc. you feed your family are safe and nutritious! Dairy products are some of the most tested and regulated foods in the store. We have safety protocols in place at our farms and at the plants. In fact, when milk is collected from the cow, all the way to the processing plant where it’s pasteurized it never touches human hands!
- Dairy foods provide so many of the nutrients we need from calcium to protein. Milk is often times called nature’s most perfect food. If you think about it, milk is wholesome when it is collected from the cow and only needs to be cooled and pasteurized before we can drink it! What other foods can do that? No matter what dairy food you’re feeding your family, it’s healthy!
As a Millennial & Aunt what do you want to share with others about the dairy industry?
Those in the dairy industry are some of the best people I know. At the heart of the industry are people who work long hours to care for their cows & ultimately the foods you feed your family? Many of us grew up on farms, but many didn’t, it’s a passion we all have. Hard work, long hours, dealing with Mother Nature, selling our product for less than it’s worth, and still caring for our families takes a lot of dedication. At the heart of the industry you too will find some of the most wonderful people, I encourage everyone to get to know a dairy farmer!
What is the most rewarding part of being in the dairy industry? Challenging?
The most rewarding part of working in the dairy industry is that I work on behalf of some of the best people in our world. Dairy farmers are smart, hardworking, and salt of the earth people and I’m honored that I get to help promote their products and livelihood!
What advice would you give someone interested in the dairy industry?
I would encourage someone interested in the dairy industry to find some great mentors, someone who has experience in the field and who can connect you to others in the industry. I had some great mentors starting with my parents and now including people I have worked with in the past and who are very supportive.
There are a lot of aspects of the dairy industry, so learn as much as you can! Read about on-farm practices, feed rations, cropping systems, barn styles, market updates, etc. In the industry we have great publications that highlight the industry, subscribe to as many as you can.
Learn different types of communication styles. When working in the industry you’ll encounter folks who resonate to different communication styles, being able to adapt will be beneficial for each conversation.
What are other roles and/or opportunities available to those in the dairy industry?
The dairy industry provides a lot of opportunities! From farmers who take care of the animals, to those who sell the equipment & resources the farmers need, to veterinarians who help farmers take care of those cows, to those who write about the dairy industry, to those who promote products, to those who do research on dairy products or dairy resources, to those who drive the milk from the farm to the plant. The opportunities are endless, and there’s something everyone will love!
What do you envision the future of the dairy industry looking like?
The future of the dairy industry is changing, just like the rest of society. Dairy farmers have always embraced technology and will continue to do so. We will always care for our animals, but technology is allowing us to take better care of them. We’re also using technology to help us grow better feed for our cows. While the tools we use will change, we’ll still have to work hard 365 days a year!
For those not involved in the dairy industry, I encourage you to ask how we use technology. Just like you use technology to stay in touch with family & friends and for entertainment, we’re using technology on our farms.
Jolene, thank you for all you do on behalf of dairy farmers, not only in Michigan but everywhere!
Entire Women in Dairy Series:
- Joanna Lidback of The Farm at Wheeler Mountain, VT
- Katie Boyke Grinstead of Vir-Clar Farm, WI
- Alicia Lamb of Oakfield Corners Dairy, NY
- Ysabel Jacobs of Ferme Jacobs, Canada
- Heidi Kovacs of Sugar Maple Jerseys, NJ
- Jolene Griffin, MI
- Melissa Woolpert of Country by Chance, VT
- Katie Sattazahn, PA
- Kim Bremmer of Ag Inspirations, WI
- Abigail Copenhaver of Farmstead Nutrition, NY
- Jodi Cast of JJC Jerseys, NE
- Amy Rowbottom of Crooked Farm Creamery, ME
- Britte Nooijens, Netherlands
- Julianne Holler, PA
- Cynthia Martel, VA
- Abby Swan of Kemridge Farm, WI
- Jamie Van De Walle, WI
- Joseta Halbur, WI
- Holly Smith, WI
- Jenny L. Baerwolf of Sassy Cow Creamery, WI
- Jenna Jongenotter, Canada
- Liz Neadow of Teacup Farm, NY
- Hannah Worden of Will-O-Crest Farm, NY
- Carla Wardin of Truth or Dairy, MI
- Amanda Freund of CowPots, CT
- Mandi Pacitti of Misty Brae Holsteins, Australia
- Jessica Chittenden Ziehm of Tiashoke Farm, NY
- Lisa Myers, MD
- Carissa Ann Tolzman, WI
- Danae Bauer of FarmGirl Photography, WI
- Ashley Kennedy of Messy Kennedy, MI
- Emily Lyons, Washington DC
- Joanna Rowher of Hollingstedt Schleswig Holstein, Germany
- Rita Mosset, ND
- Brianne Brown of Beslea Farms, Canada
- Pam Bolin, IA
- Janean Boss-Anderson, WI
- Jessica Peters of Spruce Row Farm, PA
- Amanda Williams, WI
- Trisha Boyce, PA
- Melissa Hanke, WI
- Tara Woyton, NY
- Melisa Konecky, NE
- Lizzie Frazier, NE
- Renee Norman-Kenny of Eat Farm Love, PA
- Amanda Killian of Dirt Road Holsteins, WI
- Kim Kester, WI
- Amy Ruegsegger, WI
- Alba Alvarez Nunez – Spain
- Emily Parker, WI
- Nicole Kearns, PA
- Cheyenne Ryzenga, MI
- Freynie Lancaster of Royalty Ridge, OR
- Maryanne Dudli, New Zealand
- Michelle, Keller, WI
- Ashley Abbott, VA
- Brenda Rudolph of Raising a Farm, MN
- Jennifer Heim, KS
- Janet Bremer of My Barn Yard View, MN
- Iris Barham Peeler, GA
- Laura Daniels of Heartwood Farms, WI