Life rarely follows a linear path. It often seems more like an approach with three steps forward and one step backwards that ends up with you leaving a zigzagging trail behind you. Regardless of the path though, the moments where you change direction are pivotal, and for Cheri Chapin, the recipient of the Excellence in Dairy Promotion award presented by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, those moments changed her entire life.
“I was raised in the Detroit area. My brother and I both went up to Michigan State University for college and it ended up that my brother and Doug were thrown together as roommates,” Chapin said about meeting her now husband, Doug Chapin, a dairy farmer. “That’s how I met Doug. I never would have met a farmer otherwise. That doesn’t happen in the college of business.”
And now here she is, an owner of Chapin Family Farms in Remus, Michigan. Together, along with her husband and current MMPA Board Chairman, Doug Chapin; her son, Sam; and her daughter-in-law, Micah, they milk over 700 cows in a double-18 parlor.
“Who would have thought I’d end up on a dairy farm?” Chapin said. “Honestly even in my wildest dreams, I never would’ve thought.”
A Dream Unimagined
Chapin’s original plans with her business degree were to go into travel, either becoming an interpreter or a travel agent. Now, she’s utilizing that passion to promote dairy on international missions.
“Now I get to travel as much I want to,” Chapin said. “When I was on the National Dairy Board, I got to go to Tokyo and Hong Kong on a dairy mission trip. We were promoting American cheese.”
The mission trips are filled with receptions with key stakeholders, visits to markets that promote dairy products, and trips to area culinary schools. For Chapin, the trip was “six days of non-stop” promoting. “We’d start first thing in the morning and go until whatever reception or dinner was in the evening. It was great.”
“Hong Kong was really cool because that’s the kind of place where I never thought I’d go,” Chapin said. “We went to the top of this huge skyscraper and to look out and see nothing but people and realize how dense their population is, it was very overwhelming to think of how many people they have to feed and how American dairy can be a part of that.”
For Chapin though, her initial interest in promoting dairy and seeing it as a solution to markets hungry for dairy, like what she experienced in Hong Kong, began on her own farm with MMPA’s Dairy Communicator program.
The World of Dairy Promotion
“Doug was an officer for the Alma Local and they had to put someone’s name down on the ballot as Dairy Communicator,” Chapin said. “They wanted to add one more name, so he said, ‘I put your name down.’ And I said, ‘Oh really? What do I have to do?’”
From there, Chapin jumped headfirst into the world of dairy promotion, realizing that she had the background to make a significant difference.
“Because I didn’t have a farm background, I was aware of misconceptions that the general public has, and I thought it was important that we get the right story out,” Chapin said. “I knew what people wanted to know. I knew what kind of questions they had. For example, how many teats does a cow have? Do they all have the same? You know, it sounds like a stupid question, but it’s not. There are no dumb questions.”
Seeing things through consumers’ eyes, Chapin and her sister-in-law began working with schools to do farm tours.
Her sister-in-law would do an ag in the classroom presentation and then Chapin would help her conduct the farm tour.
“We formulated our own stations for the farm tours,” Chapin said. “We had a show cow that we’d bring out so the kids could come up close and touch, we’d have cows in the parlor so that they could actually strip a cow out, and then at the end of the tour everybody got an ice cream bar.”
Their farm tours made a lasting difference in their community. “I’ll talk to people who are adults with their own kids now and say, I still remember going to your farm when I was a kid,” Chapin said. Her promotion work extends beyond farm tours as well, including donating milk to local 5Ks, organizing grocery store dairy sampling and more.
A Story to Tell
For Chapin, every moment can be used to promote dairy. When Chapin Family Farm was hit with a tornado last summer that destroyed a barn and injured animals, she used the commotion from the press to make lasting relationships with news reporters. Those relationships have since made her their contact of choice when it comes to any dairy related stories, and she ensured that she invited them back out after the barn was rebuilt to help share a positive story about dairy, showcasing recovery from the natural disaster and a dairy farm doing what they do best, caring for animals in the best way possible.
While media attention is something that most farmers shy away from, Chapin embraced it. She went from someone who knew nearly nothing about dairy when she first married Doug, to now promoting it around the world. Her success and aptitude for promoting dairy, wouldn’t have been possible without relying on the advice she had received from others over the years.
“I was told right from the get-go, if you ever have a question that you don’t know the answer to, you say, ‘I can’t answer that, but I can find it out for you. Let me get your name and number and I will call the right people.’” Chapin said about the advice she received in the Dairy Diplomat program, a former UDIM program that served as a local outreach arm. “I’ve relied on that a lot of times. I’ve done some research for people when I haven’t known an answer.”
Chapin’s willingness to learn and share what she’s learned with consumers is what earned her the Excellence in Dairy Promotion award announced from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan during the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference in early 2022.
“I enjoy it when I can share information that really surprises people. When you can tell them a fact about dairy and they say, ‘Really? I did not know that.” Chapin said. “That makes it all worthwhile. Dairy has a great story, we just have to share it.”
This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »