This April, I found myself walking on a wet concrete floor, wet and covered with mud and manure, surrounded by cows. The smell was something between New York's Upper West Side sidewalks on a warm, humid day before the sidewalks get washed down and walking past a pile of garbage bags in the curb waiting to be picked up. The smells might not have been too uncommon but the scenery was anything but normal for this suburban boy.
You may be wondering how I found myself on a dairy farm in upstate New York milking a cow. This story began last November when I was preparing to raise money for No Kid Hungry on Giving Tuesday and ending child hunger in America. I learned that personal fundraisers are more effective when you offer something interesting, exclusive or simply audacious. It's usually a great way to encourage more people to get involved with the campaign. I realized that to truly crack this nut, I needed some help. I set out to find the answer by asking my Facebook community what they would would like to see me do in exchange for a donation.
One of my friends, Mike Haley, who happens to be a cattle farmer, suggested milking a cow. Since I had never milked a cow, and my only experience with farms has been at the county fair and farmers markets, I thought it was a great thing to offer if I reached my goal of $4,000 for No Kid Hungry, which would connect kids with 40,000 meals. Fast forward to December and Giving Tuesday. The goal was reached and I was now left with having to figure out how I was going to actually be able to milk a cow.
Fortunately, the same community of friends who suggested the idea of milking a cow, included a connection to Dairy Management Inc., who turned this crazy idea into a reality. They helped in coordinating the visit, finding the right farm and bringing the video and photo crews together, which led to the following lessons.
Learning From Experience
When Mike suggested milking a cow, I envisioned myself sitting in a barn on a stool with a cow and a bucket. As I quickly learned, that is about the furthest thing from what the milking process looks like today. While humans are still very much part of the process, machines actually do the milking.
As my host for the day, Neil Peck explained, even when his dad was milking cows, he used a machine, but it was one machine that went from cow to cow. This experience opened my eyes up to the conceived reality we live in. We create an image in our head, based on the picture society has painted for us. Experiencing something firsthand and exposing ourselves to the source of information, is the opportunity to learn, grow and start living our reality instead of the one others create for us.
Technology To Feed
When I pulled up to Welcome Stock Farm, it wasn't much different than I expected. I saw barns and lots of open land. As soon as we walked inside, I was amazed at the technology involved in the cow milking process. From the pumps that milk the cow, to the computer that measures the volume and rate of milk the cow produces, to the filtering and cooling system that delivers the milk from the cows to the truck. Even the gates as the cows come and go from the milking parlor and controlled with tags and can isolate a specific cow if she needs to see the vet or get a haircut. Yes, some cows get haircuts if they have photo shoot. The amount of milk produced has increased over the years by the technology that has been introduced. This means more milk for more people.
As I started learning more about the process of milk and how it gets from the cow to the truck, I was curious about how it gets from the truck to our grocery store shelves. While I didn't see or learn about that process, it did become clear that most milk, at least in the NY area, is local. To keep the milk at a safe temperature, the trucks bring it to plants nearby and those plants distribute it to local stores and schools. In a society where we are becoming more conscious of "consuming local," milk and dairy products unknowingly already provide that for us.
While I never imagined on November 25, when I asked the question "What would you pay to see me do?" that it would lead to me actually milking a cow, I'm glad it did. Not only did it get me to experience something new but my community helped me raise 40,000 meals in a fun way where more people got involved and exposed to a cause that is dear to my heart.
It also taught me how we can break down preconceived notions by experiencing something new firsthand. I was also fascinated by how technology is at work on a farm, and how eating local is something dairy makes easy for us to do. Something I can cheer to is how the community came together to make sure every kid has access to healthy food, every day. And who know what they will think of for me to do next year?