Foundation makes practical education accessible

Shelly O’Leary

For many the word “education” brings to mind sitting in a classroom for the lion’s share of the first two decades of one’s life. While some people consider cross education to be carried, others voraciously pursue and consume it. The difference often comes down to whether or not the subject matter is interesting to the student and the manner in which the pupil is taught.

Public-education systems commonly promote post-secondary learning via colleges or technical schools, touting the value of degrees and certificates with their potential to earn larger salaries. But the idea of ​​continually pursuing education throughout one’s lifetime is not as widely embraced. And for many the concept seems unfeasible on account of financial or time constraints.

Enter the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation – also known as Dairy’s Foundation®. One of its key objectives is to ensure relevant educational programs and resources are available to those seeking world-class information germane to their career paths in agriculture. Specifically, the foundation underwrites programs and writes grants for dairy-centric initiatives to educate current dairy producers, recruit the next generation of dairy professionals and strengthen ties with non-agricultural community members.

Despite its name, the reach of Dairy’s Foundation extends far beyond those raised or working in agricultural communities. With an aim to cultivate skills and abilities from people of non-dairy backgrounds alongside those within the dairy sector, the foundation works to showcase the many career opportunities available to those who have never considered devoting their talents to dairy.

“There are many ways one can build a successful career in agriculture without actually farming or producing food,” said Joan Behr, Dairy’s Foundation secretary and treasurer. “Agriculture needs accountants, supply-chain managers, financial analysts, economists, educators, food marketers, biochemists, insurance agents, real-estate specialists, communication specialists, computer programmers, ag mechanics, equipment engineers, construction managers – and more. Just about every job you can think of has an application in agriculture.”

Since its inception more than 20 years ago, Dairy’s Foundation has been a tireless advocate and supporter of the dairy industry and its stakeholders of all ages. Supporting programs for teens as young as 15, the foundation has impacted scores of high-school students through leadership-development programs such as PDPW Stride®.

The one- to two-day program incorporates hands-on labs with communications training and team-oriented activities to help teens learn more about themselves and how to work effectively with others.

While still in high school, dairy producer and PDPW board member Steven Orth attended the foundation-supported Youth Leadership Derby®. Participating in the program helped him recognize he could confidently pursue continual education without attending college or technical school.

“After attending Youth Leadership Derby, I realized ongoing education didn’t have to automatically mean two to four more years of attending a tech school or college.”

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As a teenager wanting to return to his family’s dairy directly after graduating high school, Orth was thankful the work of the foundation granted him access to ongoing education so he could commit the bulk of his time to the farm.

Other youth-oriented programs supported by the foundation have opened similar doors for countless more. The PDPW Mentor Program has since 1996 been pairing college and technical-school students with dairy producers for on-the-farm experiences tailored to student career goals.

Underwritten by the foundation, the mentorship program has paid dividends for students and producers alike. As a college student, Jenna Achterhof of Albedarned Dairy near Baldwin, Wisconsin, menteed at two separate dairy farms in Wisconsin. She subsequently enlisted as a mentor-farm host to enable other students to gain access to the same level of hands-on learning and networking.

“The PDPW Mentor program is truly an amazing program,” she said. It allows you to have hands-on experience in the dairy industry rather than just reading practices from a book. I’m so happy to have been involved both as a mentee and now a mentor; I love teaching the mentees and learning from what they teach me.”

Additional leadership-development programs such as the Cornerstone Dairy Academy® and the Dairy Managers Institute® offer ongoing training in leadership for producers and professionals eager to build on their skillsets as they move forward in their careers. Each of the programs are offered in three tiers, providing attendees the opportunity to build on previously learned concepts in separate years.

Another critical program the foundation supports is PDPW Financial Literacy for Dairy®. The only financial-development program designed specifically for the dairy industry, it’s meant to provide dairy farmers, veterinarians, nutritionists and other agribusiness professionals a solid financial understanding of and foundation for their businesses, and to stretch their thinking to broader concepts.

Incorporating a dairy’s own financial numbers, Financial Literacy for Dairy integrates take-home assignments across multiple sessions to ensure optimal learning outcomes.

“One of the reasons I chose to attend the Financial Literacy courses was to have a better understanding of how a farm operates financially,” said Brittany Merk, a dairy producer at Mueller Farms of Lomira near Brownsville, Wisconsin. “The presenters made the conversations very informative and being able to apply the practices to our own dairy was very engaging. After every class I left very excited to take what I learned back to my family farm.”

Though originally established to support the fledgling work of Professional Dairy Producers®, the reach of the foundation has long since expanded to underwrite programs and initiatives across the nation. Organizations such as the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation, the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium, Cornell University-Extension’s Empowering Law Enforcement Animal Welfare program and Iowa State University-Extension and Outreach have also received support from Dairy’s Foundation.

“Feeding our world’s growing population takes more than farmers raising safe, nutritious food,” Behr said.

And that means the work of Dairy’s Foundation will continue.

Shelly O’Leary is the communications and outreach specialist with PDPW. Email soleary@pdpw.org to reach her.

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