Today is National Farmers Day, an important moment to recognize the 2 percent of Americans who work hard every day to provide us with safe and nutritious food. About 97 percent of all dairy farms in the U.S. are family-owned and operated. I was able to speak with three dairy farmers last week to understand the strong pull of family in continuing the tradition.
For Paul Rovey, a fifth-generation dairy farmer in Arizona, farming is a calling. His great-grandfather had a farm in Southwestern Illinois, raising cattle. His grandfather moved to Arizona to go into the dairy business. The family business goes on; every member of the sixth generation is working at the farm, overseeing the 2,000 animals. Paul also proudly raises Watusi cattle, best known for their very large horns. He quipped, “Those Watusi are the best conversation starter about American agriculture.”
For Marilyn Hershey, a second-generation dairy farmer in Central Pennsylvania, farming is her way to work outdoors. “I never wanted to be inside,” she told me. “I had chores around the farm that my mom gave me, including laundry. I would go out to see my dad to get some outdoor work.” She is running the dairy farm with her husband, Duane, who inherited the property from his father, also a dairyman. “I moved ten miles down the road from where I grew up when I got married,” Marilyn said. “And now our 2-year-old grandson is riding the tractors with his dad; Duane and I enjoy seeing our grandchildren connect with the farm.” The best story of all: Her father, now 90 years old, is working on her farm. “He is our most consistent employee,” she said with pride.
For Mike McCloskey, a first-generation dairy farmer in Northern Indiana, farming is a logical extension of his training in medicine. He started in New Mexico with 5,000 cows, then moved to Indiana 10 years later to a much larger farm, now with 15,000 cows. His children began to work on the farm as teens, feeding the cows. He is expanding into Puerto Rico, with one of his sons managing this new venture. One of his daughters oversees social media, another oversees marketing. He is intent on values-based farming, working with other farmers on a new standard of transparency on environmental issues.
When I speak to the board of Dairy Management Inc, the marketing arm of the industry, I am always so proud to share the Edelman Trust Barometer data on family businesses. It shows that family companies are 20 points more trusted than ordinary companies. These three owners exemplify the American way, which is hard work, honesty and family. As a fellow family business owner with the name over the door, I am proud to be working on your behalf. Thanks for what you do for families all over America.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.