Dairy Month Feature: Tara Vander Dussen

Tara Vander Dussen | Of The West

In honor of Dairy Month, we wanted to highlight some of the hard-working men and women to represent America’s dairy industry. We asked Tara Vander Dussen, a New Mexico native, 5th generation dairy farmer, and environmental scientist, to share her story of why she’s passionate about the dairy industry and sharing her story of the west.

“When people think of farming, I imagine that most envision the miles of row crops in the Midwest. But out here in the West, we have to do things a little differently. Our farms look a little different. Our farms are known more for miles of center pivots. Our dairies are often open lots with the cows outside under large shades. And when we plan our crops for the year, the center of the conversation revolves around whether or not there will be enough water. But I honestly wouldn’t trade it.

Our wide-open spaces just feel like home and in my opinion, they make for the best sunsets. When I think of the West, especially the Southwest, it brings to mind the hot, dry desert, cacti of all types, and all things Southwest lifestyle. The gorgeous turquoise. The beautiful prints. The leather details. 

Being born and raised on a dairy in New Mexico, it’s all I know. That’s why when I went away to college, I wanted to do something different. It took me all of those four years to realize New Mexico is exactly where I wanted to be and dairy is exactly what I wanted to be doing. I realized I would never be as passionate and on fire for something as I am for agriculture. I know it’s a cliche, but farming isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life. And I love this beautiful, sometimes crazy, farm life.

Once I realized I wanted to move back home and dairy farm with my husband, I had to figure out what I wanted to do. It took me some time and aspects of my career seem to be continually changing with changing technologies, but ultimately I wanted to be a voice for farmers. 

Through my environmental consulting, I hope to be that voice by being a liaison between dairy farmers and the regulators. Making sure we are protecting our natural resources for future generations while complying with our permits and regulations. It is crucial that we work together because we all want the same thing… sustainable farms that provide a safe and affordable food system.

Through advocating online, I hope to be that voice by sharing about our dairy farm life. I want people outside of dairy to see what it’s like. I want them to know they can trust us. I want them to see us caring for our land and our cattle. As people are more removed from agriculture they don’t always understand what we do and why we do it. And now more than ever they have questions about agriculture and farming practices. And I believe we have to stand up and share. We have to give people a way to see and understand agriculture. There are too many people out there that don’t understand farming and are spreading misinformation. And marketing tactics that mislead consumers. We need to fight against this misinformation with facts.

I think if everyone got the chance to see and know different types of farms, there wouldn’t be so much fear-based marketing and misleading advertising in our food. Agriculture is an industry worth fighting for. And if you want to better understand your food, farmers are worth getting to know!”

Tara is a New Mexico native, 5th generation dairy farmer, an 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 online through her platform, New Mexico Milkmaid because she found that people often had misconceptions about farmers and modern farming, and she wanted to set the record straight about dairy farm life and on-farm sustainability. New Mexico Milkmaid now has a community of more than 60,000 followers. And she has had the opportunity to speak at national and global conferences about dairy sustainability including at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Committee on World Food Security and the Forbes AgTech Summit. Tara is also the Co-Founder of Elevate Ag, an online course to provide farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to successfully share their ag stories and grow their businesses. To learn more about Tara Vander Dussen and her work, click here.

To read more features of those in ag + western industries on Of The West, click here.

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