From Outsider to Insider: My Life on the Farm

The first time I rolled up to Hillside Farm, I was a happy-go-lucky teenager wearing the usual high school getup: a white pair of K-Swiss tennis shoes (wow, remember those?), jeans and a pink T-shirt. I was feeling pretty fancy riding shotgun beside my boyfriend as we swung by the dairy on our way to town for a date. While he discussed something at the shop with the guys, I sheepishly said hello to the lady who would, unbeknownst to me, one day become my mother-in-law. She briskly said a few words before speeding off toward the barn for afternoon chores. I have to admit; I’ve never forgotten that day. The thing I remember most was that there was so much going on, and although I had no clue what any of it was, I wanted to find out. And so it began, my path to becoming a dairy farmer.  Fast forward ten years, a dairy science degree, a little lost sleep and a lot of learning, and here we are. I, Laura Flory, am without a doubt, a dairy farmer. And I couldn’t love it more.

That first day I came to the farm, I was a 16-year-old who had a lot of options, but not necessarily a lot of passion about any of them. Growing up a banker’s daughter, my brain worked in numbers, but I was a bit of a tender heart too. I was always a little restless after doing one thing for too long, and I was hesitant to look toward a career that would leave me feeling stuck. I had been involved in 4-H and FFA long enough to have caught a bit of a bug for “agriculture” in general, but not any one thing in particular. If I hadn’t paid much attention to the spark that hit me the day I first visited the farm, I probably would have been an agricultural researcher of some sort. And I probably would have been bored out of my mind. One of my absolute favorite things about being a dairy farmer is how much thinking and number crunching has to go into everyday life. And when it’s coupled with work on behalf of animals that depend on us to take care of them, we’re talking instant dream job for this girl. Dairy farming is certainly never boring, and that’s why I love it.

Sure, there have been some challenges along the way too. The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was not losing heart when I went to college. It seemed that everyone in my major already knew everything there was to know about dairy farming, and I was in the corner trying to figure out what half of the words even meant. Of course, there were also the multitude of people in my life not from a dairy background who repeatedly asked, “What are you going to do with a degree in that?” After working full time for several years back at the dairy, I continued to get the question, “What else do you do for work?” Sometimes there would even be the occasional look of disappointment that a young college graduate wasn’t trying to make more of her life. And usually, to top it off, someone would then think of a question they had about a practice of the industry that they would throw on top for good measure.

It was in some of those moments, while biting my tongue and trying to think of a polite response, that I started to realize the world knew very little about the dairy industry and those who worked in it. Much like myself (before becoming a dairy farmer), most people had a lot of advice or questions and very little knowledge about where dairy products really come from.

To be honest, sometimes it’s hard for me to go back and pick out the point in time that I moved to become a farmer. I just jumped in the deep end and never looked back when it came to learning more about dairying. There was a lot I didn’t know, and a lot that I do now. I can say, with great confidence, that dairy cows are well taken care of. And with equal confidence I can say that dairy products in this country are one of, if not the most, safe food supplies in the world. The one thing I made sure not to leave behind was the understanding for those who still haven’t had a chance to learn these things. I had questions, and someone answered them, and I have made it one of my goals to now be someone who always has time to pass that knowledge along. I also find that my non-farming background tends to make me less afraid to show how much I care for the animals themselves. I can’t stop taking selfies with cows now!

What excited me most about being part of Acres and Avenues was being able to share all that I love about the dairy industry, and its bright future, with those who still have questions. I hope everything that went into making this episode will help a few more people understand what I do for a career, and see how much passion goes into making food for the world. Dairy farming isn’t just a job—it’s real families and real animals. It’s real sweat and real smiles. And I’m so glad I found my way from the outside, in.

Check out Acres and Avenues Episode 3 to experience a day in the life of Laura Flory.