Teresa Farmer recipient of the 2022 Industry Service Award

A Humble Type of Extraordinary Service

The pandemic continues to shed light on the quiet reliance we have on each other to do our part. While shortages still abound and delivery times aren’t fast, the people in the dairy supply chain with boots on the ground have never stopped. Farmers, haulers and plant workers are some of the first to come to mind, but an often forgotten group is those who work in the labs to ensure a safe milk supply and accurate pay price for producers. One lab technician in particular, Teresa Farmer, was recently recognized with the 2022 Industry Service Award for her dedication to Michigan dairy farmers.

“Our lab results actually help producers,” Teresa said. “It helps determines their pay, but if they are having issues, we can also give them results to help them figure out what the issues are. The bottom line is if members don’t succeed, we don’t succeed. We want to do anything we can to help them.”

With 32 years of experience working at Michigan Milk Producers Association in the Novi laboratory, Teresa knows the importance of providing accurate and precise testing results for members.

“At the lab, we do member pay testing and we help them by allowing producers to send in special testing, which is a bulk of what we do,” Teresa said. “Because of our results, producers can monitor for antibiotics in their milk, along with their RAW, PI, lab pasteurized and coliform counts. If they have cows with mastitis, we can help give them a clue as to what might be causing it.”

The technical jargon comes from years of diagnosing problems and working with farmers to meet their testing needs. Teresa’s dedication to the industry would never have happened if she didn’t have an influential family member or professor in college.

“I was in college at Michigan State University (MSU) and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Teresa confessed. “I was at a loss and my cousin, who was in food science, recommended I take a couple classes. I fell in love with dairy because of Dr. Partridge’s classes. It just stuck.”

Teresa graduated from MSU with a degree in food science and went on to work at Michigan Dairy in Livonia where she met her husband, Duane Farmer, named 2022 Fieldperson of the Year. She started working at MMPA in 1990 and since found her place in the industry.

“My first impression of MMPA was how friendly everybody was,” Teresa said. “The girls in the lab work so well together and because we rotate, we’re always doing something a little bit different.”

Because of the precision that is required for lab testing, the job can be routine, but Teresa and the others in the lab work to make every day slightly different. A big part of that is developing relationships with each other for the greater good of providing extraordinary service day in and day out.

“My favorite part about my job is the camaraderie and the people,” Teresa said. “It feels like it means so much for the producers to be able to do their job the best they can with the help of the results we provide.”

During Teresa’s service at MMPA she’s experienced the changes in the industry. In the past 30 years, she’s seen the lab expand, new tests be offered and advances in technology.

“When I started, we had eight or nine people working in the lab, now we have four because we have machines that do things that we used to do by hand,” Teresa said. “The greatest advancement I’ve seen is probably the Bactoscan. It’s a machine that gives you bacteria counts in raw milk. We used to have to plate samples, make the agar, autoclave it, plate it, pour the agar in, swirl it and then incubate it for 48 hours. Now the process is simple, we just run it through the machine and get results in about seven minutes.”

With technology though comes break downs and since milk is a perishable product, Teresa confesses that it’s a love-hate relationship. Fortunately, when breakdowns happen, Teresa and her team work together to find a solution.

“When things go wrong, it’s amazing how well we work together to solve the problem,” Teresa said about her coworkers. “We’ve worked together so long that we don’t even have to say anything. We just know what to do.”

For that reason, Teresa’s humbled by the recognition she received as the 2022 Industry Service Award recipient during the Michigan Dairy Industry Conference held in May 2022.

“The girls in the lab work so well together. The service to the industry is a group effort because we all work together. It’s not a one-person job,” Teresa said. “I come in and I do my job, but I don’t feel like I do anything extraordinary. We all do our job.”

Doing your job is enough, especially when it’s as critical to the industry as lab results and executed extraordinarily well.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »