Day 3 was the first stop of our “road show”, as the leadership of SAGARPA is calling our visit here. We started the morning with the representative for SAGARPA meeting us at our bus before we headed to the university. (Okay, let’s be honest, some of us started our morning with a latte and a donut from the Krispy Kreme next door to our hotel.) The representative from SAGARPA told us “Your visit here is a big deal to help women in agriculture with value added products and production methods.” The mostly male leadership is very supportive of these efforts. Many of the women in agriculture are the heads of their households. The husbands of many of them, left to work in the United States, and they have chosen not to return to Mexico. This leaves the women to be the primary provider for not only their children, but also for their parents and their in-laws. They are hard workers and very motivated to make a good living for their families.
Our group from Minnesota represents dairy, soybean and organic farming. At the University, following our opening welcome ceremony, attendees had the opportunity to attend a presentation from the group of their choosing. Each group had about 50 attendees. The dairy presentation included a presentation by me about how the Business Development Team at Midwest Dairy is helping retailers and dairy product manufacturers to communicate to consumers to help increase the sales of dairy products on behalf of the dairy farmers who fund our work. My presentation was followed by one of our dairy farmers, deb Vander Kooi, from Worthington. deb shared the story of her family’s dairy farm through the lens of fatih, family and farming. The strong connection with family, really resonated with the attendees of our workshop. Several of the women farmers in attendance had brought their children with them not only out of necessity, but also due to the strong family bond they have. There was an opportunity not only for us to present to the farmers but also for the farmers to share their concerns and challenges with us. The dairy farmers are in stiff competition with companies which are purchasing milk powder and reconstituting it and selling it as fluid milk at a much lower price for which the farmers can sell their fresh milk. This provided for a very spirited conversation with a few of the dairy farmers in the room. They were focused on competing on price alone against these large companies, and yet they shared with us their passion for farming, the care with which they treat their animals, the nutritious benefits of their products and superiority of their product as a result. It was a rewarding conversation to talk about how “value-added” does not need to be exclusively for the development of new, innovative products, but it can also mean creating value for their products, by telling the consumers the story of how their product was produced. We know consumers today want to connect with farmers and learn how their food was produced. One farmer in the room spoke passionately about how they are not currently doing enough of that today. He was especially enthusiastic about an educational piece Midwest Dairy shares with retailers, which helps communicate to consumers the nutrition contained in a glass of milk.
We had a standing room only crowd for the closing session. When it was time for a group photo, everyone came on the stage for the photo…including the audience. The passion in the room for what these farmers do is contagious….and it’s the same passion I feel from our farmers at home. We are more similar than different. If more people had an opportunity to travel outside of their comfort zones, they would learn that too.
The people continue to amaze us with their graciousness and hospitality. I am learning what a big deal this is to the people with whom we have met. I am so thankful to have been invited to participate in this historic event.
The leader for SAGARPA in this region, finished his closing comments with “For those of you returning to your farms, may God by with you”.
The emotional events of the day, were followed up with a late night flight to Guadalajara, and a 1:00 a.m. arrival at our hotel. A short night will have us rested and ready to make our 2nd road show appearance at the Biblioteca Publica del Estado de Jalisco.