by Elizabeth A. Tomlin

Seventeen-year old Sophie Woodis of Country Ayre Farms, LLC, Dewittville, Chautauqua County, NY, has found her voice.

“I was a dairy ambassador for 5 years,” Woodis explained. “Then last year I was the Alternate Chautauqua County Dairy Princess, and now this year I am the Chautauqua County Dairy Princess, so it’s been about 7 years now that I have been in the program. At the beginning when I was an ambassador, I was pretty quiet — well, I am still pretty quiet — but, now I think it’s fun to talk to people and teach them about what we do.”

Woodis, a high school senior at Chautauqua Lake Central School, said dairy princesses are taught at seminars hosted by the American Dairy Association Dairy Council (ADADC), learning about communicating with consumers in an honest and sincere way, conveying to them what the dairy industry is, and how it works.

“We learn about how to be professional when we talk,” explained Woodis. “You might think that a teenage-girl may not be the best voice for an industry run by older men, but, people open up so much to a young girl — and you can talk to them. They feel comfortable speaking to us and trust us.”

Dairy princesses, in-turn, teach these skills to alternate princesses and their courts.

Woodis said she learned from watching and listening to the princess before her.

“As the Chautauqua County Alternate Princess, I would go to the same events as the dairy princess and I would learn about how she would get up and talk to people and about the different things she had to do, so I knew what I had to do. I would watch her interact with the kids in the best ways.”

Much of the work includes teaching dairy facts to children in schools, at fairs, family farm days and other public events.

Woodis said dairy princesses, alternates and ambassadors teach children about nutrients and minerals contained in dairy products and how they help to promote a healthier, and so happier, life.

“These nutrients and minerals help keep your heart healthy and help your breathing — and all basic body functions,” said Woodis.

At many events, adults learn about making healthy choices, too.

“Older adults can also benefit from the calcium and other nutrients,” Woodis confirmed. “Drinking milk can help limit that natural aging process that occurs. It’s better for everybody to drink milk and use dairy products.”

Woodis said consumers have false ideas about the dairy industry that have left them with a bad impression.

“Most people think big farms are industrial farms. But, most big farms are family farms,” Woodis remarked. “We have a big farm and we’re a completely family run farm. It’s my parents and my uncle and my grandpa — and most farms are like that. I know of some farms where there are 1500 milking cows, and they’re completely family run! I think if people understand our story and where we’re coming from, that would be easier for them to accept that big farms are no big deal.”

Woodis said farmers need to be more assertive in getting their stories out where consumers can hear and see them.

“Farmers need to tell their stories!” said Woodis. “I think the first thing I would tell people is that their milk comes from a good place. People don’t necessarily have a problem with drinking milk, they have a problem with not knowing where it comes from. So, I think I would tell them that every farm is just trying to make a good product, safely and the best way they can.”

Consumers need to know that dairy farmers treat their cows well, because that’s how they get good production.

“We want to produce milk and the only way that cows can produce milk is if they’re happy and comfortable. Our cows have to be treated well for that.”

Utilizing social media for promoting dairy is one way to reach consumers.

“I think that’s the biggest thing right now; social media,” commented Woodis, acknowledging that much negativity targeting dairy comes from social media, and farmers can keep an active, united front to help defend their industry by keeping a visible and active profile.

“Dairy farmers can get into that field and really produce what you want to see and what we want consumers to see,” said Woodis. “I think that would be one of the best ways to go about it.”

Woodis encourages all counties to have an active, positive, dairy promotion presence on social media.

“All of the counties should have promotional pages where we can pump good and positive things into Facebook and all of those social media pages, to emphasize that dairy is a good thing!”

Virtual tours are a good way to let folks see what is going on at your farm.

“Virtual tours are so cool,” said Woodis.”They reach so many people and kids all around! Kids from New York City would never get the chance to see a dairy farm. So, being able to go into their classrooms on a computer — it’s an easy thing for us to do and it’s an easy thing for them to do. Especially in today’s society, where kids are so used to seeing screens, it’s real to them. Watching TV is real to them.”

Woodis said their farm has not taken part in a virtual tour yet, but is considering it.

“We learned a lot about them at seminar and we could do one here. We live in a pretty rural community and we have kids come to our farm all of the time from classrooms. It’s pretty easy for them to come here and we have a pretty decent size farm here, so it would be easy to have a virtual farm tour here.”

Country Ayre Farms milks about 750 cows, with a total number of about 1,300.

“I know it’s hard right now for every dairy farmer,” said Woodis. “I would like to tell farmers that the biggest thing we can do to help ourselves is to project what we want consumers to see — and it starts within our own communities. Farms can host farm tours to encourage people to see where their food is coming from. They can also offer to go into schools to talk to kids about what they do. Many people are willing to listen they just don’t know that we want to teach.”

Woodis said she and her three sisters all love farming, and she believes that farmers need to strive to keep the dairy industry in a positive light, protecting and promoting it for future generations. She said she looks forward to a future in the dairy industry.

“I understand, now that I’m older — and as I get older, that I want to have a career where I can advocate for dairy as much as I do every day here.”

On the home farm, Woodis reported being mostly responsible for feeding calves and helping care for maintenance and running of the calf barn. “I love getting to watch the calves grow up into cows,” she remarked.

She also helps out where ever she is needed on the farm, whether with milking cows or simply running errands.

“In the summer my sisters and I also take care of the show cows. This means cleaning and feeding them every day, halter breaking them, and then eventually taking them to the fairs.”

Woodis said she loves farming because she always has something to do, and to look forward to.

“Everything in my life is marked by some farm related event. When the corn is being harvested, that means school is about to start. When calf blankets start coming out, then Christmas is right around the corner. It also provides me with opportunities to meet new people and make new friends. I couldn’t imagine life any other way!”