Community is something never taken for granted in the dairy industry. During times of crisis, everyone shows up in support and ready to extend a helping hand. Likewise, members of the agriculture community are often the first to serve as a volunteer firefighter, take an open seat on the township board, be involved in their local Farm Bureau or be active at their county fair. This “say yes” mentality to stepping up and filling leadership roles necessary to keep the rural community alive is how the Horning family approaches dairy promotion on their farm.
Horning Farms, located in Manchester, Michigan, is a short 30-minute drive from the heart of Ann Arbor. Public facing and close to large urban communities, dairy promotion is at the heart of what they do.
“We love giving farm tours,” Katelyn Packard, the sixth generation on Horning Farms, said. “I enjoy seeing people coming down and showing off the farm and just seeing little kids’ faces of enjoyment when they see the farm.”
The Hornings love dairy promotion enough to dedicate themselves to hosting monthly Fun on the Farm events. They invite anybody who is interested in learning more about dairy farming and agriculture to stop by and enjoy everything their farm has to offer. Their turnout is phenomenal with hundreds of guests visiting the farm each month.
Along with monthly Fun on the Farm events, Katelyn and her family organize annual neighborhood events. They invite anybody who they pass by with large equipment on the road, people who live next to their fields or those who regularly pass by their farm. These regular events are all about sharing the goodness of dairy with others.
“When we started these neighborhood events, it was to try and get in front of the people that say negative comments about dairy and to really show them the farm in general,” Katelyn said. “To show them that we’re not doing anything bad.”
Along with that, with the Hornings living so close to large communities of people, the community events have also been a way for them to manage a crisis before it begins.
“We started the open houses because then we know our neighbors have been here and have a good impression of our farm,” Katelyn said. “So, if something were ever to happen, they know what goes on here and we have a good relationship with at least some people.”
The entire family of Hornings, from Katelyn’s grandparents Earl and Diane to Katelyn’s parents Jeff and Lynda and to Katelyn’s brother Mason, all agree on the biggest challenge facing the dairy industry. Mason said it’s consumer perception, Earl said it’s communicating with people, and Katelyn said it’s exactly what their farm is trying to solve by opening their farm gates to consumers.
While in-person events were a challenge last year, it wasn’t too big of a challenge for Katelyn, Mason and the rest of their family to tackle. Along with a few COVID safe in-person events, they also learned how to host a virtual farm tour with the help of UDIM. This experience geared them up and got the ball rolling on what the possibilities are for reaching an even larger audience than just their local community.
“My cousin teaches AP human geography in Chicago, so she’s used videos from our farm before, but last year we actually got to do a live virtual tour and her students were so engaged and so excited,” Katelyn said. “Then she posted about it in a Facebook group and then we had another teacher contact us and since then, we’ve done a couple of different virtual tours.”
Katelyn and Mason’s efforts and the modern technology it takes to host a farm tour today have humble beginnings on Horning Farms. Dairy promotion has always been a valued piece of producing milk.
“My grandpa has always been doing promotion,” Katelyn said. “They were doing promotion long before I showed up and I just kept it going.”
Earl, Katelyn’s grandfather, inherently values connecting with consumers. He served on the boards of Dairy Management Inc, UDIM and MMPA. He credits those organizations for the success that the farm has had reaching consumers and influencing the future of dairy.
“People from all over the world have visited our farm,” Earl said. “I’m most proud of watching these guys promote dairy today though. We were good, but these guys are much better!”
The entire Horning family has been instrumental in many of the regular promotions that happen on Michigan dairies today. From being the first host of a Breakfast on the Farm event with MSU Extension to Mason writing the first blog for Day in the Life of Dairy Farming through UDIM, the Horning family has a lot of history and experience in promoting dairy.
“When I started there wasn’t any Facebook back then,” Earl said. “The communications system didn’t work. You had to learn to communicate, communicate, communicate directly with people.” But Katelyn is quick to point out, “It’s a double-edged sword because you also didn’t have the anti-animal agriculture groups on a Facebook page either. As opportunities for us as farmers to communicate grow, they’re also growing for anti-animal agriculture groups too.”
For that reason, Katelyn and her family have a lot of encouragement and advice to share with any fellow dairy farmers considering inviting people on their own operations.
“We’ve had neighbors call and say that they have friends visiting and ask if they can come over,” Katelyn said. “Just say yes. I think that if you open your doors to something like that, you’ll see that you enjoy it. It doesn’t have to be some big fancy event. It can just be something simple like that.”
As for where to start, they recommend contacting UDIM. “Even if you just say, ‘Hey, I’m interested in doing something,’ they will call you and say, ‘Oh, there’s a school that wants a tour.’” Katelyn said. “They will find stuff for you to do and are just as okay if you’re not interested. They will find somebody else.”
The Hornings are the first to recognize that they do a lot on their farm for dairy promotion, but they are just as supportive and encouraging to a fellow dairy farmer who simply wants to post on Facebook a photo of cows once a week. Afterall, that is dairy promotion and the only way to get the ball rolling on your own farm is to, “Just say yes.”
This article was originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »