“Sharing online about agriculture can be challenging, but it is absolutely worth it!”

Tara Vander Dussen, aka The New Mexico Milkmaid

 

Her name is Tara Vander Dussen, but you may know her better as the New Mexico Milkmaid. With +12.000 followers on her Facebook page and +45.000 on Instagram, Tara uses her platforms and reach as an online advocate for agriculture. Women in Ag talked with her for its very first edition of the new feature “Influencer”.

Hi Tara, introduce yourself!

My name is Tara Vander Dussen, but you can find me online as the New Mexico Milkmaid. I grew up on my family’s dairy farm in New Mexico and left for college to attend the University of Arizona, where I graduated with a degree in Environmental Science. After obtaining my degree, I got married and moved back to New Mexico. Since then my husband, Daniel, and I dairy farm with his family, along with our two girls. Daniel manages the day to day operations on our farm, while I have been working with dairy clients throughout New Mexico on environmental consulting for ten years now. My job involves federal and state permitting, groundwater and soil sampling, reporting and general environmental compliance. I assists my clients with state and federal regulatory compliance, water conservation, sustainable management practices, and quarterly monitoring reports. As a certified NRCS technical service provider, I am able to assist producers with nutrient and irrigation management.

On top of this, another passion of mine is to serve as president of United Dairy Women, a charity committed to providing local New Mexico children’s homes with the recommended three servings of dairy a day for the entire year.

I also spend a lot of my time advocating for agriculture online. I am driven by my passion for sharing the facts about dairy farming!

Tell us more about your location and what it means for your work.

We are located in eastern New Mexico, and our main resource concerns are the declining water table and drought conditions. Which means that with every year, we have become more and more conscientious of our water use. This means recycling our water, but also farming with more drought-tolerant crops, more dryland farming and being more creative with how we use water in our barns.

How did you get into agriculture?

I am a fifth generation dairy farmer, so I grew up in dairy. However, I realised early on that I did not want to take on the traditional role of being a dairy farmer. I found my passion for environmental science in college and knew I wanted to consult with dairy farmers on environmental and sustainable projects then. I wanted to be sure farmers had a voice in their environmental permitting process.

Walk us through a typical day on the job!

The job varies day to day, of course, but for my environmental consulting you can find me sampling groundwater, reviewing lab results or putting together reports for state permit requirements. Consulting with my clients on all aspects of their permits and environmental concerns is also a part of that job.

As for my advocating work, this means sharing on my social media platforms and blog. Preparing resources and tools for farmers to use in order to share their stories is a big part of that work, and you will find me speaking at conferences across the country about dairy sustainability.

Currently, I am spending a significant amount of my time on a project called Elevate Ag. This is an e-course to give farmers, ranchers and producers the tools they need to feel confident sharing online and in-person about their agriculture story.

Do you notice differences in perception towards women in agriculture?

There are definitely differences in perception that I have seen and experienced, being a woman in agriculture. People make a lot of assumptions: they assume you aren’t qualified, they doubt your experience and expertise, they assume you aren’t interested or able to run a farm. For me, personally, these misconceptions are some of the reasons I chose not to actively pursue managing our family dairy but to instead create my own path for my career.

What are the challenges in your job?

One of the challenges I have faced with my environmental consulting is the difficulty of talking with clients about environmental concerns on their farms. Farmers don’t typically like dealing with their lagoon management systems, and then you add in the fact that they have a young woman telling them how to manage them. It doesn’t always go over well and it was especially hard when I first started at 22 years old. I really had to prove myself, my knowledge and my expertise and had to learn how to talk to clients and build relationships with them. Now, my ability to connect with clients is one of my greatest strengths!

What makes it all worth it to you?

Sharing online about agriculture can be challenging, but it is absolutely worth it to me when I receive those messages from people telling me they started drinking milk or eating beef again for the first time in however long because of what I shared online!

If you could give young women who dream of a career in agriculture a piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t let other people’s expectations of what a career in agriculture should look like hold you back. Ten years ago, I would never have guessed that a huge part of my business would be sharing online and speaking about sustainable agriculture, and yet, now it is the biggest focus in my business. It is also my biggest passion, and I am so glad I paved my own way through this career and business I have built. You never know what your journey will hold if you don’t follow your passions. I truly believe big things are planned for all of us!


About Tara

Tara Vander Dussen (33) is a New Mexico Native, fifth generation dairy farmer, environmental scientist and mom of two girls. Daniel, her husband, manages all day-to-day on his family dairy farm while Tara has her own career as an environmental consultant, speaker and online agriculture advocate.

Tara began sharing her story because she found that people often had misconceptions about farmers and farmers, wanting to set the record straight about dairy farm life and on farm sustainability.

On Tara’s website and social channels, you will find a little bit of all the aspects in her life and work: the day-to-day life of a dairy farmer, environmental sustainability, motherhood, favourite recipes, charity work and travel.

You can follow the New Mexico Milkmaid on her website, on Instagram, on Facebook and on Twitter.

More information about Elevate Ag can be found here.

 

 

 

 

This article was published in Women in Ag Magazine 2022-1. Click here for an overview of the magazines. 

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