Today, it is my honor to introduce a graduate student in Food Systems, Melissa Woolpert. After stalking, I mean checking out Melissa’s blog, she describes her journey from suburbia to the farm. Her love of farming began at the University of Vermont and admits that at one point, she didn’t even know the difference between a Holstein and Jersey. After a trip to the university farm, Melissa was hooked as the dairy cows fascinated her. Next week, I look forward to meeting Melissa in person at Ag Chat’s Cultivate & Connect Conference!
Melissa’s Story in her own words:
I grew up in the beautiful Monterey County, California. I spent almost every waking hour of my childhood riding horses and cultivating my desire to be a veterinarian. I eventually found myself at the University of Vermont studying Animal Science. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was milking cows. And get this…I was milking cows FOR CLASS! I’m not kidding, feeding baby calves and taking care of their mommas was my homework. We had to memorize their names, index numbers, and family histories for an exam. I had hit the gold mine. The one year class eventually ended, but I wanted more. I got a part time job at a local dairy farm, which led to a full time job after graduation, and the rest is history. I managed the health of the cows and younger heifers on that farm for 3 years. I am absolutely in love with all things farming. I graduated from the University of Vermont with a BS in Animal Science and Microbiology in 2013. After a year working full time at the same dairy farm, I decided to go back to school to pursue my Masters of Science degree in Food Systems. Leaving the farm was the hardest decision I ever made, and I miss the cows and people every day, but going back to school was the right move for me. But don’t worry, I still make frequent visits and catch up with my bovine beauties! My mission is to foster positive discussion, thought, and support for our food system. I want to share my story of how I always had a passion for animals, but never knew I would fall in love with animal agriculture. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I am country by chance.
What is your favorite dairy product?
Oh man, it’s tough to choose. In a perfect world, I would have dairy at every meal (and honestly, I usually do!). For breakfast, I’ll have lemon Chobani green yogurt. For lunch, I make sure to somehow incorporate Cabot cheddar cheese. And for dinner, I’ll take a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream. Yep, ice cream for dinner is socially acceptable.
What is your role in the dairy industry?
Today, I am earning my Master’s degree in Food Systems. My thesis research focuses on helping dairy farmers improve the fat and protein content in their cow’s milk We are also studying ways to best communicate recommendations to farmers. I miss the farm every day, but I’m excited to contribute to dairy science!
Who is your favorite cow?
My favorite cow in the world is a Holstein cow – and not just any Holstein cow, but an extra special cow: number 117. In fact, she was born before we started naming cows at the farm, but everybody calls her Grandma. Grandma is the oldest and one of the most productive cows on the farm. She has produced over 300,000 gallons of milk in her lifetime! She is also the sweetest cow in the world, and has several daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters who are just as great as she is!
What are 3 things you want consumers to know about the dairy industry?
- Just because farms look different than they used to doesn’t mean that their values or priorities have changed. The barns have been remodeled, but we value and prioritize our animal’s heath and the environment today more than ever!
- If you have a medical question, you ask a doctor. If you need something fixed on your car, you ask a mechanic. So please, when you have questions about how your food is produced, ask a farmer!
- Farming is HARD WORK! The cows need to be fed and milked and the barns cleaned 365 days a year, even on Christmas!
As a millennial what do you want to share with others about the dairy industry?
I want millennials like me to know that technology in farming is a life changer, and definitely for the better. For example, did you know cows wear “Fit Bits” that allow farmers to keep their cows healthy and well-fed.
What is the most rewarding part of being in the dairy industry? Challenging?
The most rewarding part of working in the dairy industry is learning about all of the research that goes into farming. Did you know that there is an entire research field called “Cow Comfort” that specializes is designing barns to keep cows healthy, happy, and clean!? It’s so great!
What do you envision the future of the dairy industry looking like?
As a young woman in dairy, I couldn’t be more excited for the future of dairy. Just like their grandfathers before them, farmers working hard every day to produce safe, nutritious, and wholesome milk. However, unlike their grandfathers, today’s dairy farm families are making milk with less land and fewer, healthier cows. This means a smaller environmental footprint and plenty of milk and dairy products for everyone to enjoy!
Melissa, we wish you much success as you continue working on your Master’s!
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