Charles Krause doesn’t have to talk to groups of schoolchildren. Or host dairy farmers from New Zealand. Or give interviews to media. Or speak at a Farm Bill listening session. Or feature his family on a video shown at local gas stations.
But it helps dairy. The Dairy Farmers of America producer, who owns a roughly 300-cow, fifth-generation farm outside Buffalo, MN, that he operates with his son, Andrew, sees telling dairy’s story as part of his responsibility to the industry and his fellow farmers. Connecting with consumers and non-farm stakeholders is critical for dairy’s future, he said.
“I wouldn’t say I’m all that different than anyone else, I’m just willing to take a little bit of extra time out of my day to do those things and tell my story,” he said. “Whether it’s a conversation one-to-one, one-to-few, or one-to-many, everyone can play a role, whether it’s talking to someone at a grocery store, or talking to a group at church or getting on social media.”
Opportunities to talk about dairy sustainability and stewardship abound at Krause Holsteins. The dairy uses a truss system that increases airflow and climate-controlled curtains, which save on energy costs and improve the cows’ comfort. Longtime practices, like filter strips that reduce runoff, and newer technologies like “Fitbits for cows” that monitor activities to optimize diets and routines, all reassure consumers that milk is being produced with the highest standards of care while improving efficiencies for farmers, Krause said.
“I try to drive the conversation that sustainability is something farmers have always done, and so we can be part of that conversation going forward too,” said Krause, who received NMPF’s first Farmer Communicator of the Year award in 2021.
A key to effectively communicating with wider audiences outside dairy, he said, is to remember shared values, which creates a connection between people who produce dairy and people who benefit from their work – even people who may be skeptical of that work, he said.
“Farmers are really not that different from our consumers,” he said. “We may think they’re from Mars and we’re from Venus, but we have the same shared values. Family’s important to us, we just want to do what’s right for our fellow people, we care about where we live, and I think that if you can start that conversation and say, ‘Hey, you may think what I’m doings wrong, but here’s why we’re doing it,’ and you can have a two-way conversation.
“I find that everyone I talk to is really interested in where their food comes from, and then once you start talking about it, I think they’re fascinated about all the things we do on a daily basis, and that’s not just me, it’s all dairy farms across the country that we have a great story to share, and it’s worth sharing.”
Standing up for the industry has had its memorable moments for Krause and his family. The video for Coborn’s, a St. Cloud, MN-based grocer, caught the attention of friends and neighbors who didn’t expect to see the Krauses while filling their gas tanks. But it also came with a QR code used to scan dairy coupons, through the project organized by Midwest Dairy.
And while Andrew helps operate the farm, Krause’s daughter, Morgan, represented the family and dairy as a 2016 finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the famed butter-queen competition that results in a personalized butter sculpture at the Minnesota State Fair. Morgan, now a University of Minnesota graduate, still works in agriculture. But her butter head is no more – after six years in the family freezer, “I’m like, ‘this has got to go,’ and she didn’t want it, so I discussed it with the local Coborn’s store,” where it was displayed in their dairy freezer case from mid-July until the September end of the state fair.
The sculpture, which was inedible, is now in “butter head heaven,” Krause joked.
“Any little thing like that you can do, to spark a conversation.”