February 13, 2010
Dairy supporters stand up
Homer student organizes Facebook group to counter bad publicity
More than 17,000 people have joined a Facebook group that a local colllege student created to support dairy farmers in response to recent negative publicity about the industry.
Erin Jones, a Homer native and junior at SUNY Cortland, used the social networking Web site Facebook to create a group called “I Support Dairy Farmers” about two weeks ago.
People across the country and a few from other countries are using the group to discuss issues in the dairy industry, including a nationally broadcasted video portraying alleged abuse of cattle at Willet Dairy, a large dairy farm in Locke, and the reaction that has ensued.
Jones owns two cows, which live on Lew-Lin Farm in Dryden. She has been showing cattle at the State Fair and other events since she was young. Her father, Walt Jones, is a retired dairy farmer who used to own Don Alter Holsteins in Scott.
Jones created the group after her younger sister, Chelsea Jones, took the English Regents exams in school. The test included an article that Chelsea Jones felt negatively portrayed large commercial farms.
Jones created the group and invited about 30 of her friends to join. She wanted to bring together people from different types of dairy farms, such as large, small and organic farms, she said.
“We all need to support each other, because if we don’t, we’re our own worst enemies,” Jones said.
That evening, ABC’s “Nightline” aired a video taken by an animal rights activist working undercover at Willet Dairy. The video showed sick cows, actions by employees that appeared abusive toward the animals, and common industry practices such as dehorning and tail docking, or cutting off the tails of cows.
Jones said the attention attracted by the video probably influenced her group to grow quickly, but that there was already tension between dairy farmers and the general public.
An hour after she created the Facebook group, it had 200 members, including one from the United Kingdom, Jones said. The next morning it had 500 members, and within 48 hours it had 5,000 members, she said.
Members of the group are talking about the video, which is posted on You Tube and other Web sites, the federal milk pricing system, marketing locally produced products and other topics on a discussion board.
“I created something great, but it’s great because of the people who are on it, not because I did it,” Jones said.
One of Jones’ goals is to organize an Open Dairy Day when dairy farmers across the country can invite visitors to their farms. Many farms are already open to visitors, she said, but an organized event would draw more people.
Cornell Cooperative Extension co-sponsors a dairy day in Oneida County scheduled for June 4, according to Terri Fike DiNitto, a member of the group.
“I feel that the only way to improve the dairy industry’s appearance is for dairy farmers themselves to open up and tell their stories to the consumer,” Jones said.
She tries to read all of the posts made by group members and respond to as many as possible. She also looks for inappropriate or disrespectful remarks and asks people to change their posts. If they do not, she deletes the posts and paraphrases their opinions in a less offensive way as anonymous posts.
“The group is for support,” Jones said. “One of my personal goals is to keep it positive and to give these people a place to go for comfort.”
So far, she has only had to remove one member’s posts. A man who has since left the group. He had been attacking people’s spelling and grammar and was disrespecting certain members, she said.
“This world is just so full of tearing people down that it is just very important to me that this place stays safe, because if it isn’t safe, people will not share their opinions,” Jones said.
Jones said she plans to soon create a Web site to educate people about dairy farming. She said she wants to post videos showing farmers doing daily tasks on their farms and explaining why they are done.
Some practices shown in the video of Willet Dairy are common practices that serve a purpose, but the video did not explain the reasons they are done, Jones and local farmers have said.
“We’re quickly realizing that at this point it seems anybody can say anything about the dairy industry and it’s taken as fact,” Jones said. “Nobody is bothering to stop and ask their local farmer if this is what’s going on.”
Jones went to SUNY Morrisville for a year to study dairy science, but decided she would rather be a teacher than a dairy farmer, and transferred to SUNY Cortland to major in elementary education.
She said she wants to teach people about dairy farming as a hobby and integrate dairy farming into her classes when she becomes a teacher.
“Dairy is in my blood and I will always be involved in it in some way ... and education is also in my blood, and the two will always comingle,” Jones said.
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