Movers & Shakers: Tara Vander Dussen of New Mexico Milkmaid
It took a once-in-a-lifetime blizzard in New Mexico for Tara Vander Dussen to sit down and start a blog nearly 6 years ago.
Fast forward to today, and the New Mexico Milkmaid has made quite a splash, creating content and building awareness for the dairy industry she loves. Oh, and doing so while building up an audience of over 50,000 followers across her social media channels.
Between her work as an environmental scientist and her passion for the industry, she’s generating insightful ag content that inspires everyone from her fellow farmers to everyday moms that meander the grocery aisles. And her work has received global recognition, even to the extent where she presented to the UN FAO Committee on World Food Security in Rome!
Magnetic caught up with the busy dairy guru on all things life, work, and play.
Magnetic: Tell us a little bit about your ag background and growing up on a dairy farm in New Mexico.
My husband and I are both 5th generation dairy farmers, so dairy farming goes back a long way in our families’ histories. My grandparents immigrated here from the Netherlands in their late 20s and they made a couple of stops along the way, but ultimately ended up in New Mexico. I have grown up my whole life on a dairy farm in New Mexico (first in southern New Mexico, then eastern New Mexico).
What drove you to Environmental Science as a major in college?
To be honest, I changed my major 9 times before landing on Environmental Science. I always knew I wanted to be in the agricultural science field, but I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like.
As I started taking classes my freshman and sophomore year, I really fell in love with the environmental science class. My major is actually Soil, Water, Environmental Science. I loved that combination of soil chemistry, water quality.
Then I focused on policy and law. I feel like I am one of those few people who actually use a good portion of their degree. And while my degree was not dairy-focused in any way, shape, or form, I was able to translate the degree into the dairy field with my background.
When did you start to share your ag background/experiences on social media, and what prompted you to do so?
It was about 6 years ago when I decided to start sharing about dairy via my blog. The social media channels actually came later.
I decided to start sharing and the timing of it was multi-fold. I was seeing a lot of misinformation around dairy and its environmental impacts. At the same time, I wasn’t really seeing anyone in agriculture combating that misinformation. I felt like with my background and my degree, I was uniquely positioned to share. I was also a new mom at the time and felt like I had the opportunity to connect with other moms (aka the grocery buyers).
At the time I started my blog, I had been thinking about it for a while, but hadn’t really done anything. Then, that December, a massive once-in-a-lifetime blizzard hit New Mexico. I shared a post that morning that went viral (40,000+ shares!). A lot of people, media, etc had a lot of questions about the blizzard and were looking for people to interview. So that day, I literally sat down and googled “how to start a blog”. By the end of the day, I had my first published post.
And as they say, the rest is history.
When interacting with non-ag or non-farmer audiences, what is one of the facts you share about dairy farming that surprises them the most?
I have found that it’s not just one thing that surprises them. It’s the complexity of the entire dairy farm. They going into it assuming we “just” milk cows without ever really considering all the details. So they are always surprised to find exactly how much going into “just” milking cows.
What’s the coolest experience you’ve had so far due to advocating for ag, growing a large following, etc.?
Hands down the neatest experience was going to Rome, Italy to present at the UN FAO Committee on World Food Security. It was really interesting to see how that whole system works and then to be able to be a small piece that presented about dairy and its environmental impacts.
It was recently announced you will help co-host Season 4 of the Field Work podcast with Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora. What are you most excited for about that?
I cannot wait for this! We already recorded the first episode in person at Zach’s farm. For this season, I am most looking forward to bringing in more livestock producers and researchers and hearing what they are doing in the sustainability space.
Share a little bit about your work with the United Dairy Women.
United Dairy Women is an organization that is extremely important to me. I have had the honor to serve as President for several years now.
United Dairy Women provides all of our local area children’s homes with 3 servings of dairy every day for the entire year for the last 16 years! These children’s homes are faith-based. So they do not receive any funding from state and federal agencies. They are dependant on donations. And when United Dairy Women was founded, these homes were not able to serve as much dairy as they wanted. They simply could not afford it.
Our founders saw that need and created our Milk Mission. And that mission was to make sure these children could enjoy all the dairy they wanted!
If you weren’t working in agriculture, what do you think you’d be doing today?
If my husband and his family dairy farm hadn’t called me back to New Mexico, I probably would have ended up going to law school. When I got engaged, I had just taken my LSAT and my degree was focused in policy and law. I cannot tell you how happy I am that is not where I ended up — haha!
I have such a passion for dairy and agriculture and sharing that with others. I don’t think I could have found that kind of passion in any other career.
What does Tara and the family like to do for fun in your free time?
In the summer, our family loves to spend the weekends at the lake. Water skiing. Boating. Enjoying the sun. And in the cooler months, you can find us in our UTV. Camping in the dunes, trailing riding, and riding anywhere we can!
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