Smiles help move milk
Promotion shows business face of dairy farms
By STEVE BROWN
ENUMCLAW, Wash. -- For years, dairy farmers Cathy and Tim Thomasson have welcomed visitors to their farm for field trips, corn mazes and other harvest-time activities.
Now thousands of Northwest grocery shoppers will see Cathy Thomasson's face in the dairy section of Fred Meyer supermarkets. "We wanted customers to see a different kind of image: farmers as business owners, as CEOs," a dairy marketer said.
Jeff Steele, director of retail marketing at Washington Dairy Products Commission, said he worked with his counterparts in Oregon and Idaho to organize the in-store promotion. "Customers have said they want to know more about where their dairy products come from," he said.
The three selected farmers -- Cathy Thomasson, of Enumclaw; Ed DeGroot, of Mountain Home, Idaho; and Louie Kazemier of Rickreall, Ore. -- are featured on a promotional poster that is part of a regional campaign, titled "Meet Your Local Dairy Farmer."
The effort dovetails with the commission's Dairy Trust Initiative. Through radio and print ads, online videos, media outreach and a website -- www.akeyingredient.com -- the initiative provides a platform for the farmers to tell their story in their own words.
In Thomasson's case, "It's easy to make a dairy farmer look like a businessman," she said. "There are so many different hats they have to wear -- working as veterinarians, nutritionists, engineers, mechanics."
She said she would be willing to meet with customers in a retail setting. "We all need to be a little more visible," she said.
But that's not her natural setting. "Put me on a John Deere out in the middle of the field and I'm happy as a clam."
In 1976, she married her "first-generation farm boy," who had started by milking eight cows by hand. Since then the Thomasson Family Farm has grown to 400 cows at the Enumclaw farm and another 400 near Basin City, in Eastern Washington. Dry cows and heifers are kept at a facility near Enumclaw, and this is where special activities bring urban visitors to the dairy.
"I have a passion for getting people back to the farm," Thomasson said. "Most people of our generation had a connection to farming. Now we're two generations removed from that connection."
October is the busy month for the Thomassons. The cows are moved off the smaller facility, and the family throws an open house, complete with hay rides, a pumpkin patch and a 5-acre corn maze.
"We share with kids about raising baby calves," Thomasson said. "Parents ask questions, and we explain why we do what we do. They get the feel and the smell of the farm.
"People often don't know what we do or how we do it," she said, "but when they find out, they feel good about it."
Multiple generations meet during the activities, and oftentimes conversations are sparked as grandparents share their memories with grandkids.
Fun and old-fashioned games help put a human face on the dairy, Thomasson said, but farming as a business also has some stark realities, such as the growing costs of feed and fuel.
"Dairy farming is a very difficult thing the past couple of years," she said. "We love what we do, but you have to draw the line. The future's going to hold some difficult days, and we may possibly move this operation to Eastern Washington to make it work."
During the Fred Meyer promotion, which runs May 25-June 21, shoppers who buy milk, cheese and yogurt of any brand during a single shopping trip can mail in the proof-of-purchase receipt to receive a shoulder bag and "The Naturally Nutritious Cookbook."
The gifts are donated by the dairy products commissions.