From Dairy Farm Girl to Attorney for General Mills
I grew up in west-central Minnesota where the prairie meets the hardwood forests and glacial lake region of the state. My parents are fifth-generation Minnesota dairy farmers.
However, the Holstein dairy farm I was raised on was a first for our family. My parents started living on the farm I grew up on the year I was born and purchased it seven years later.
Its footprint changed significantly from those first years until the time I headed to college.
The farm had a hip-roof barn with twenty-eight stalls for cattle and a few small outbuildings when my parents started living there and it grew to a seventy-cow milking herd with fifty or so young stock, the addition of a one-story milking barn, other outbuildings, and additional acreage.
From a young age, I was very involved in 4-H especially food science projects and food demonstrations, and I became more involved in 4-H serving in various leadership roles as I grew older. My 4-H experiences, especially the projects I selected, had a strong influence on my career choices.
I also had the pleasure of representing the American Dairy Association during my teenage years. I love milk! I recently had a co-worker who I often eat lunch with notice that I drink milk at lunch, and she asked if I liked milk or if I drank it for health reasons. I love milk – no health reason needed. I guess it’s in my genes.
Growing up, as a treat and for fun, we made our own butter and ice cream. Our ice cream recipe was quite simple: a good cold winter night, some snow, plenty of cream skimmed from the top of the bulk tank and rock salt.
My siblings and I could be assured of an evening turning the hand-crank on the ice cream maker with a delicious reward at the end. Licking the paddle from the ice cream maker was a favorite and being selected by my mom as the ‘owner’ of the dasher was coveted.
Although the dairy operation was our primary income, my parents worked to make our family as self-sustaining as possible and so a large vegetable garden was eventually created, and chickens and pigs were raised. My favorite job on our farm was working in the family vegetable garden. I really enjoyed the peace of an early morning. The morning dew made weeding the garden easier at that time of day and I was good at it, harvesting was so rewarding as well. Munching on some of the tasty vegetables while I worked was a bonus too.
For a number of years, we had school field trips visit the farm. Local kindergarten classes would tour in the spring and learn about farming and farm animals. It was always interesting to read the thank you notes from the students, seeing the farm through their drawings and finding out what they liked the most was pretty cool.
Today, the farm I grew up on is owned and operated by my younger brother, Alan, and his wife, Jessica. My dad still works on the farm almost daily, but it has in large part been passed to the next generation as many farms do. I cherish that my nieces and nephew are having some of the same experiences I did as a kid.
As with any family business, my heart still belongs to it, so I still tend to worry when there is a drought or when milk prices are low, and I celebrate when I hear about my brother and his wife’s successes.
In my current position at General Mills, I provide legal support to our research and development teams specifically for the One Global Dairy team. It’s a perfect fit for me having a food science degree with dairy emphasis from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a law degree from Mitchell Hamline Law School.
I am grateful that I get to play a part in the dairy innovation process and work with a team of super smart scientists who are passionate about bringing Yoplait yogurt and Hӓagen-Dazs ice cream products to the world.
When I say the “world,” I really mean it. One of the super cool things about the One Global Dairy team is that my colleagues are based around the world, as are the delicious products they create. It is great to work with so many different cultures, backgrounds, and countries.
I believe I have a unique position – one that bridges my dairy farming past with my current role at General Mills.
I also believe that new innovations at General Mills that delight consumers are as important to the farmers who supply our ingredients as it is to me or any shareholder, because it translates into demand for the raw materials we source from farmers in our supply chain.
I am fortunate to still live in the country. My drive to work on any given morning starts with the sound of gravel crunching under my car tires; and a quick survey of the landscape around me as I check on the status of the fields and crops I drive pass.
The 17-mile stretch to a major highway along dusty roads and farm fields, brings me great joy.
The drive also gives me time to contemplate what’s ahead for the day as I interact with our research and development teams and continue to help grow our dairy business.
Editor’s note: Please read our other You Grow, Girl! blog posts and learn more about General Mills and our commitment to sustainable sourcing and supporting smallholder farmers in our 2018 Global Responsibility Report.