In this episode of Eggheads Greg speaks with Tara Vander Dussen, a fifth-generation dairy farmer and co-host of the Discover Ag podcast, who uses her background in environmental science to address misconceptions about modern farming. Greg and Tara discuss the complexities of the agricultural industry, focusing on the disconnect between consumers and food production. They talk about the importance of storytelling in agriculture, the challenges of 'factory farming' stereotypes, and the need for greater transparency within the broader industry. Tara shares her experiences in social media advocacy and how building consumer trust can reshape public perception of agriculture. The episode emphasizes the integral role of family in farming and explores ways to improve consumer-educator dialogue in the agriculture industry.

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Creators & Guests

Nathan Tower

What is Eggheads?

The average American eats almost 300 eggs per year. But how much do you know about where they come from? What actually makes an egg organic? And could better eggs be better for you?

Host Greg Schonefeld is your resident Egghead and digs into topics like egg nutrition, cage-free farming and what it takes to build an egg empire. From egg-onomics to chicken genetics, Eggheads crack open the unexpectedly fascinating world of eggs.

Tara Vander Dus...: Food is very personal, very emotional, and people are tied to it in cultural societal ways. They're going to stand by their belief system no matter what facts you say. And so I think the way to do a better job of conveying agriculture to people is through that storytelling. That simplicity of storytelling can be so powerful for people feeling then connected again to their food versus feeling that void.

Greg Schonefeld: Hey, there. Welcome to Eggheads. I'm Greg Schonefeld. In 1850, there were around 4.9 million Americans working in farm occupations, about 64% of the nation's 7.7 million workers. Fast forward to 1920 when the official census data started and the farm population was nearly 32 million, making up about 30% of the nation's 106 million people. Today, American farm families make up less than 2% of the US population, yet the remaining 98% are fed by their labor. The egg industry, along with broader agriculture faces the difficulty that Americans are becoming more and more disconnected from how their food is produced, yet more and more curious about where their food comes from. The industry also faces different groups with competing interests. Combine these factors in today's world of social media and you have a real challenge to get on the same page between producer and consumer. I remember when I was a kid, my grandma told me stories about how every Sunday, her mom would take a couple chickens from their backyard and make fried chicken for the whole family. That sounds like another world today.
Most Americans can hardly imagine that, yet it's a reality behind the food we eat. So how do farmers or producers connect with the consumer who has never seen agriculture up close, but consumes agricultural products every day? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Maybe there's a lack of understanding of modern agriculture. How do we connect the dots between farmer and consumer? I knew exactly who I needed to talk to.

Tara Vander Dus...: Hi, I am Tara Vander Dussen, co-host of the Discover Ag podcast.

Greg Schonefeld: Tara's unique perspective is a dairy farmer, combined with her background in environmental science, allows her to address misconceptions and bridge the gap between the agricultural community and consumers. Through her podcast Discover Ag and social media presence, she discusses the realities of modern farming challenges farm stereotypes, and promotes a deeper understanding of where our food comes from. I'm excited to share our conversation and learn more about her journey, insights and the innovative ways she's connecting the world of agriculture with everyday consumers.

Tara Vander Dus...: I am a fifth generation dairy farmer. I grew up on my family's dairy farm in New Mexico. I had a small detour when I went to the University of Arizona and got my degree. I actually did not see myself coming back to the farm, so I got my degree in environmental science and ended up meeting, not meeting my husband. I knew him my whole life, but ended up dating my husband and marrying my husband and moving back to his family dairy. So I had this environmental degree and kind of had to figure out what to do with it in the ag world, which ended up being a lot easier than I expected. There was a lot to do with it actually in the ag world. And so I ended up actually being a consultant for dairy farms throughout New Mexico in the Southwest on environmental issues, so permitting, regulatory soil health, I always joke like the backend of the dairy kind of. I didn't work with the cows. I worked with the cow manure, and I did that for about 10 years.
And as I was doing that, I just saw a need to share what I was seeing firsthand on dairy farms. From the sustainability side of things, there was a ton of misinformation on the internet of what people thought dairy farms were like and what their impact on the environment was. And so it led me to start sharing on social media. Those first few posts, I probably could have never guessed where it would've taken me now, but I ended up leaving my consulting a job to be full-time sharing about agriculture now on my podcast, Discover Ag.

Greg Schonefeld: Interesting. So this environmental science and the permitting, that's a big part of agriculture, a big piece of it. So when you were doing that, you didn't have any plans to tie that to agriculture?

Tara Vander Dus...: Yeah, no, I didn't. I actually, originally when I got my degree, thought I would go onto law school. I was a pre-law major, took my LSAT and everything and was ready to go, and then multiple things. But I also realized how much I wanted to get to work. There was a lot of things happening at that time in New Mexico as far as agriculture and environmental regulations. They were actually completely rewriting all of the regulations for which dairy would have to follow, how you would apply for a permit, what the regulations under that permit would be, and I just kept thinking that there needed to be a liaison. There was a lack of communication between the dairy farmers and the regulators, and that someone needed to be mediating between them. And it's funny because that ended up being very similar to what my job was. I represented my clients to the regulators and helped work through their permitting process with them, and I truly loved that job. I loved working with my clients, as well as being in the weeds of the regulatory world.

Greg Schonefeld: I want to hit on the misperceptions because it seems like that really pulled you out. And some people might be wondering, okay, why are we talking about dairy on a podcast called Eggheads? I think the misperceptions is really where there's a big tie in around maybe agriculture farming practices. Can you speak to some of the misperceptions you see in agriculture or deal with?

Tara Vander Dus...: Yeah, and I do think they all tie in. Animal agriculture, one of the things that I have learned as I have had more and more interactions with consumers and just people outside of ag is a lot of times all of animal ag gets lumped together. All of animal protein gets lumped together. If dairy is bad for the environment, it's actually just all of animal ag is bad for the environment, or whatever. We tend to get lumped together. So even when I'm sharing online about dairy, I end up fielding questions about beef or about eggs. It leads to so many questions. And so I think kind of the blanket statement that I saw repeatedly about environment was animal agriculture is bad for the environment. And then specifically to dairy, I was seeing conversations about how much water dairy uses, how much water beef uses.
And when you really get into the weeds of it, it's not that black and white. There is so much nuance to these conversations, and that's what I think led me to start sharing online was. I wanted to have these conversations, real honest conversations about how much water is dairy using, what do we do with our manure, what are we doing to protect groundwater, all of these things. And it really did lead to sharing about a much broader stroke about agriculture than just dairy.

Greg Schonefeld: I want to talk about this idea of factory farming. What do you think is behind that?

Tara Vander Dus...: Yeah, that whole idea of factory farming is really interesting. My co-host and I just presented at South by Southwest, and this is one of the things we talked about, is that I think people really grab onto that term factory farming and run with it as if it would solve all of the food system. I think there's a few things at play. I think sometimes people label factory farming as everything from the farms all the way through the food system, right? You think about the big companies out there that are the multinational food companies. And somehow, again, we get all lumped in together as if it's all one. And then I think on the farming level, people have been obviously leaving farms, been leaving rural areas and moving to cities for the last 100, 200 years. When you look at the data of how many farms we had even 100 years ago compared to what we have now, it's unbelievable.
It's like 2 million farms now compared to 7 million farms 100 years ago. That is a massive shift in what people do and how they're connected to agriculture. And so I think when you think about that, I always relate it back to dairy, but the last time that maybe a lot of people remember dairy farming is almost 100 years ago, right? So when you think about agriculture 100 years ago, that's my grandfather hand milking cows in the Netherlands. And so then you have people that have not had one moment of touching agriculture, being on a farm in 100 years, they just heard stories about their grandparents, and now they're seeing things on the internet of modern day farms and they're shocked it looks different. And it's like the whole world looks different than it did a hundred years ago, and yet we are just absolutely dumbfounded that agriculture also progressed.
And so I think it's, again, showing people a little bit more of what agriculture looks like. And so for me, my family farm, I would say by a lot of activist standards, could be considered a factory farm, when in reality, I live 100 steps from our milking barn. My backyard is our close up pen. And I think when people see that, they're like, oh. So you hear a number, you think of factory farm as a number and a corporation, and when you actually show that it's a family farm just like any other farm, it kind of shatters those preconceived notions that people have around that word, factory farming.

Greg Schonefeld: Do you think you've been able to combat that? Some people have heard that message and been able to visualize it a little better?

Tara Vander Dus...: Yeah, I think so. On the beef side of things, my co-host is a cattle rancher, and one of the things I see so much there is when people see the "beef industry," they see a feedlot and they have no idea that before that feedlot, most cattle in the United States spend about two thirds of their life out on pasture, at ranches, at cow-calf operations just like my co-host, no matter what size they are. And that, yes, they may end up in a feedlot if they're in the conventional supply system, but that is for a very short amount of time. I think people go in thinking the beef industry equals feedlots, and it's, again, so much more complex. There's so much more to the conversation. And when people kind of see those different layers and those different aspects, I would like to think it does kind of change their minds, that they do realize that maybe there's more to the picture than they originally thought.
There's more to agriculture than that nine-second reel that was bashing animal agriculture that they saw on Instagram. But they've got to have that connection and be able to see it firsthand. I say firsthand, but even through social media, of a farmer or rancher sharing their story, and I think it does go a long way

Greg Schonefeld: As consumers we're bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information every day with social media, news outlets and countless online sources all vying for our attention, it's sometimes difficult to know what to believe. This constant influx of information can lead to misconceptions and fear, especially about topics we're not familiar with. Misinformation is particularly dangerous because it shapes our beliefs and decisions and it can happen instantly, often in ways that are far from the truth. Tara shares her insights on how this disconnect impacts people's understanding of agriculture, highlighting just how far removed many of us are from the realities of where our food comes from.

Tara Vander Dus...: I feel like when people don't know what something's like, they fill that gap with a lot of fear and just unknown and uncertainty, and it can really kind of terrify them. Your mind goes to different places, right? And maybe you have seen something negative on social media, so your brain's going to fill in that gap with that information. And there's actually a meme somewhere out there that is from an animal activist group that says, "If everyone had to butcher their own animals, nobody would do it," and it makes me laugh because 100 years ago, everyone butchered their own animals and everyone that could eat meat did. And it's like if you actually saw it, if you actually raise the animals, you don't feel that way. That's not what it's like. But it just goes to show exactly how unbelievably far we've ventured off from our food system and how much that people just don't even connect what's in the grocery store with what has been grown in the ground.
Kind of a crazy story. Our podcast is called Discover Ag, and we go on a ton of other podcasts to promote our podcast and we have to introduce ourselves or the host introduced us, and so many times they don't know what the word ag means, or they'll say Discover AG to the point we actually thinking about dropping the word Ag from the title of our podcast because people, it doesn't even resonate with them. Even the word agriculture doesn't really resonate with them, that agriculture means people growing your food. It is an absolute disconnect. And I'm sure there's people listening that are laughing, but it's been really crazy to see that firsthand, that removal and just how distant it truly is.

Greg Schonefeld: Well, I have a very close and personal story with that because my company is called Ag Installers, and people call it AG installers all the time, and it drives me nuts.

Tara Vander Dus...: Yeah, they think it's like an acronym for something. They have no idea. And so it is really wild.

Greg Schonefeld: It does seem like you have reached the consumer, or there's at least a group of consumers following you social media, following your podcast. How has that kind of evolved over time? What kind of interests have they shown?

Tara Vander Dus...: That's one of the reasons my co-host and I actually ended up coming together. We were both sharing on social media individually, and then we came together for our podcast, but we were both just really wanting to break out of the ag bubble. It is very easy to get trapped in our echo chamber of agriculture, and I think it does require us to be very intentional. So going on podcasts for maybe some health and wellness or nutrition or just influencers and podcasters that are completely removed from ag. And let me tell you, we get turned down a lot. When we send our email saying, "Hey, do you want to talk to a farmer and rancher?" a lot of people just don't even bother answering. But then there is the people, and you just continue to keep building. And even on social media, we try to do collaborations.
I remember doing a collaboration with a woman who was a nutritionist for toddlers. And she had a post about milk, and so I simply commented and said, "Hey, if you'd ever love to interview a dairy farmer, here's my Instagram handle." And we ended up doing... I did a blog on her. I wrote up a blog for her blog post or her website. And so just little things like that. And sometimes you do wonder, does it really make a difference? And I have... One of my favorite stories is there was an influencer, a very large influencer, over a million people following her, and she tagged me one time in a story that just said, "I used to not drink milk. I found this dairy farmer online. I started following her, and now I drink milk." She had never had an interaction with me, as far as I know, never left me a comment, never we had never had a DM together, and here she was saying she started drinking milk and shared it with her 1 million followers that I was the reason for that.
And so whenever I'm doubting myself or just like, why am I doing this? I feel like I'm just talking to a brick wall, I try to remind myself of those little moments that you're like, it does. It has an impact. It does make a difference, and hopefully you just continue chipping away at being able to break into those groups that are outside of agriculture and building trust with people so that they do tune into your podcast or turn to your page when they have questions about agriculture.

Greg Schonefeld: You talked about fielding some questions about poultry and egg, that those kinds of things are coming to you. Is there something that the egg industry could learn from being more vocal? Or do you have any kind of advice to give to the egg industry around connecting with the consumer?

Tara Vander Dus...: We did have the US Roundtable for Poultry and Eggs on the podcast and did an interview, which I thought was really great because it's one of those things where people ask you questions, but to be honest, I've never been to a poultry facility or an egg facility. Even within ag, we're very segregated in that typically most of my life is dairy. My co-host, when she visited my dairy for the first time last summer, it was the first time she'd ever seen a dairy cow in real life, and she's lived her whole life in agriculture, right? We are in our own world within ag. And so it is nice when you get those questions of having someone that you can be like, "Hey, who do" I reach out to or who do I send them to? But as far as poultry and egg, for me from the outside, within ag, but from the outside of poultry, it can feel like poultry and egg are very closed doors and not always the best transparency.
And I think it has some to do with probably just the vertical integration of those systems is my guess. But that is one thing that's hard, because when I get asked questions a lot of times, I'm like, "I honestly don't know that much about poultry and eggs either." And even that, people don't even realize that poultry is not like broiler... They're called broiler hens. This is going to show how little I know. People don't know that meat chickens are different than egg chickens. I think there's this assumption that the birds that are for chicken are also for eggs. People just don't know, I guess is the thing about it.

Greg Schonefeld: I admire the way Tara takes on tough issues, head on and publicly, that's not easy, but it's led to breakthroughs in her work.

Tara Vander Dus...: It's so fascinating because one of the things in dairy is that we obviously have a connection to the veal industry, and veal can get some pretty challenging questions online and have a lot of people not sure what it is and have bad feelings about it. I don't know of any veal facilities near us and we don't sell our calves to veal, so I knew very little about it. And it was really cool though because a couple years ago, the New York Beef Checkoff had a couple dairy farmer influencers out to tour veal facilities in Pennsylvania and New York, and it was such a great opportunity because just it's a question I get asked online regularly. What happens to your calves? What about the veal calves? And I never could really answer them. I could give kind of the PR blanket statement. But after I had been there firsthand, it really changed how I answered.
I remember being just at a restaurant last week and someone was like, "Yeah, it's veal." And I was like, "Oh, let me tell you about veal actually." I've been to a veal farm. And it just makes it sound so much more genuine and sincere when you've actually been there, not just like, "Well, I've heard it's not what you think it is," or "Here is what it is." And I was able to give firsthand recollection of my experience. And so it goes to that same point that sometimes even within ag, it's good for us to know about each other and be able to rely on each other to help spread actual information, factual information because there's so few of us, right? We're 2% of the population trying to tell everyone else a little bit about where their food comes from. And so I feel like those crossovers can be really great for just helping that dialogue, that conversation along.

Greg Schonefeld: I could imagine it could be maybe a little scary to share, or even going down the road of something like veal. But at the same time, you go do it, and what you did there is you went and did your homework, and it's like the more you're doing that, the more you're kind of allowing yourself to connect with the consumer.

Tara Vander Dus...: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like sometimes when you start sharing online, it can feel overwhelming. You have to share everything that you've ever learned about agriculture, and I realized it's definitely not that. Actually, people just likes seeing your day to day more than being educated on something. It can feel very preachy. Sometimes the easiest way to educate is actually just show people. And that's the beauty of social media, is just being able to open up your phone, open up your camera and take a video of just something that's happening. Just was it two days ago? I did do a post with some educational and some debunking about some things about milk, and I don't know, it ended up in probably a dark place on the internet. I'm not sure. And I ended up turning off the comments because I just was like, I can't deal with responding anymore.
So sometimes things go a little crazy, but I try to really... Before I post something that is very educational, I try to make sure I really stand by every statement I'm making in it, so that way when comments, questions do come, it is really easy to defend them, to say, "I know this to be true." And so I feel like that has been something that's been helpful to me. So the veal, for example, I probably would've never posted about veal ever until I went and saw. And then I was like, I can very easily defend what I'm saying and explain what I'm saying. Even if it ends up going viral and getting random weird questions, mean questions, whatever it may be, it makes it a lot easier to answer them.

Greg Schonefeld: One of your podcasts was about actually how our worlds have collided maybe not in the best way, but how avian influenza, I guess has been found in maybe a milk cow. And I really liked something that you said around that, which was that a part of you feels like, I don't want to really speak to this because there's nothing to be afraid of, and I don't want to stoke a fear that shouldn't be there, but at the same time, you also feel the need to get ahead of it and get the right story out there before the wrong story gets out there. And I think that's kind of like a balance maybe for the ag industry. Maybe you could feel like, oh, we'll hunker down and it goes away, and I know it's not really an issue, but at the same time, maybe you're better off just jumping out. And I think it kind of gets into this transparency thing that you've talked about.
Before we hear Tara's answer, it's important to note that since recording this interview, avian influenza has reached a larger population of dairy cattle. People in the ag industry are on high alert because more carriers of the disease brings added risk to laying hens. Tara addressed this issue in terms of dairy impacts almost two months ago in the very early stages of this issue. These developments highlight her point of just how difficult it can be to walk the line between stoking fears and providing needed information to consumers.

Tara Vander Dus...: That has been a really hard line for me to walk. It's happened now a couple times, where there's been some pretty big news articles about dairy, and I'm like, am I adding to the fear or am I answering questions? And I really try to evaluate before we cover it on the podcast, that conversation, because sometimes I do think agriculture has the tendency to hunker down and say it'll pass the next news story. It's not that big. So what I do is I keep a really close eye on my DMs, and our podcast page also has an Instagram and we get a ton of messages there. And there usually comes a point where it's pretty obvious to my co-host and I that's like, no, this is everywhere enough that people have questions and people are looking to us for answers. That's what we do.
We cover trending news, top three trending news articles in the ag and food space every single week. And so if we choose not to answer something that is so obviously huge in the news, I think it looks really suspicious for us. And so we do try to cover those. We do a lot of research. We talk with a lot of people before we do some of those stories, but it's exactly as you said. In my mind, I'm like, if no one has heard about this bird flu, and now I'm telling them it's also in dairy cows, how panicked are people going to be? There's also some helpful information. Sometimes I'll check in with our checkoff, how often is something being searched? And you can usually see a spike. And is it continuing to trend, or is it like a single day spike, it's done, people have moved on? And kind of just, I guess weighing all of those factors before covering something.
But so far, I feel like every time I've covered something where I felt like I had to walk that line, I was really glad in the end I did because I see the comments and the questions and the responses from people, and it's always so positive after we cover it that people are like, "I was worried. I didn't know what was going on, and now at least I have some tangible information of what's happening." And again, that if you don't know, you get more scared than if you just know the facts. There is that balance there. And so we do try to do that, just try to bring facts to people.

Greg Schonefeld: I think that's a great tidbit about how you're in your DMs or seeing comments or you have a way of interacting with the people that you're connecting with. Because otherwise, if you feel like it's a one-way street where you're just putting things out in the air and you don't really know how it's landing, I guess that's another way to really connect with the consumer, is kind of invite them to be able to give you that feedback, whether it's your DMs or other avenues of communication, and that kind of can help you guide your content. Along those lines too, I think you've also talked about the importance of storytelling. Can you hit a little bit on that?

Tara Vander Dus...: We actually had a researcher from Colorado State, I think it was probably over a year ago on our podcast, and she said food is the only industry where facts and emotions are on level playing fields, if not even emotion being higher than the facts. You can tell people all the facts about their food, but food is very personal, very emotional, and people are tied to it in cultural societal ways. They're going to stand by their belief system no matter what facts you say. And so I think the way to do a better job of conveying agriculture to people is through that storytelling. That simplicity of storytelling can be so powerful for people feeling then connected again to their food versus feeling that void.

Greg Schonefeld: When it comes to social media, balancing engaging content with educational value can be challenging. Engagement always wins, not necessarily truth or logic. That's how the platform's designed, and there's a lot of noise out there too.

Tara Vander Dus...: Our podcast is, I think over 150 episodes in now, and we have learned that there are just some stories that may be interesting to agriculture, but they're not going to be interesting to people outside of ag, and finding that balance. We're lucky. We cover three articles every single week, so we try to find a balance between things that are maybe... We always say we're the meld of food news and pop culture. So sometimes they're a little more on the pop culture side and sometimes they're a little heavier on the food news side, but melding those kind of two worlds to make it more relatable for people. So we covered Megan Markle's new Strawberry Jam that she just released for her brand. What does that have to do with agriculture? Maybe not a lot. We try to tie it back to some different things. We always try to connect it somehow back to ag, but our final story was about chicken at Costco, and so very much talking about the poultry industry and questions we had, things, concerns, or discussions we wanted to have about that.
And so you might be like, what on earth does Megan Markle and chicken have to do with the same episode? But kind of striking that balance really to us seems to be the sweet spot of being able to have it be entertaining, and yet informative for people. Even if they don't realize they're learning about agriculture, they actually are. They're learning about their food and where it comes from, but we're just trying to do it in a trendy, fun way.

Greg Schonefeld: Earlier, you had that story about the one follower who you kind of changed her perspective. What kind of positive impacts have you seen from that connection with consumers?

Tara Vander Dus...: It's everything from big things to little things. One time was this story going around about dairy and there was an animal abuse video. It was horrible. It was just a horrible black eye for the dairy industry. And I had multiple followers who were like, "I'm seeing this. It's pretty hard to see, but I thought I would come to you first and ask your opinion on it." Those small conversations sometimes mean the most to me because I'm like, I was who they thought of when they saw that about dairy. They didn't engage with the video. They didn't immediately say, "That's it. We're canceling dairy. We're done." Instead, they were like, I know a farmer, I know a dairy farmer, and I'm going to reach out to her and see what she has to say about it.
And I feel like it means a lot to me. And in my mind, that's what you want, is you want people when they have a question, when they see something that you want them to have someone to turn to that has factual information. And so I feel like that's really our goal, is while we have a lighthearted podcast, if there is serious questions, then they know who to reach out to. I think

Greg Schonefeld: That's a great example because you're almost establishing a relationship or a trust that extends to you, but it also extends to the industry. And like you said, it allows you to maybe tackle some of these things in a way where you've already developed that trust. And I think that kind of thing is super healthy for the industry and agriculture needs more of it, I guess. How do we get more of it?

Tara Vander Dus...: Yeah. My cohost has a quote she always says, and I love it, that agriculture does not have a product problem. People need to eat three times a day every single day, and we supply that for them. We have a marketing problem. We do not position ourselves very well in the world. We have not figured out exactly how to tap into all of the resources and free apps, all these platforms that are out there in a really dynamic and engaging way. I feel like sometimes ag talks to ag. Sometimes ag tends to be in a very boring. People think it's boring. I think people, this is a super generalization, but I think a lot of times when you talk to consumers, and this is what I've seen, they expect the older man in overall standing out in the field.
That's what they're envisioning, and so showing them the new side of agriculture, the new faces, the diversity of agriculture, I think even the expertise of agriculture, I think there's an assumption that farmers are dirty and dingy and not smart, and just changing and shattering those misconceptions about who we are as people goes a really long way.
There's lots of people out there that are interested in learning about where their food comes from, and so figuring out how you want to show up. I love the podcasting space. It's very intimate. You're very much in people's homes. You're physically in their earbuds. It feels like you're talking to each other. So I personally love that connection that podcasting gives, but there's a million ways to show up and engage and be a part of this conversation with consumers.

Greg Schonefeld: What does family mean to farming?

Tara Vander Dus...: I feel like it's going to sound cliche, but I feel like it's everything about farming. And maybe that's growing up in it, but I would say even the first generation farmers that I've talked to, everyone says it's more than a job. It's a way of life. But I don't think that people always realize that until they get in it, because my family physically lives on our farm. My daughters are here. Right now. My daughters are downstairs playing in the backyard. That is literally our dairy farm, is our backyard, and so it's almost impossible to separate the two. I even think about my dad and the generations that came before them. It wasn't just what they did. It's who they were. If you were to ask most people that are farmers, "Tell me about yourself," they're going to say, "I'm a farmer."
Those three words go so much deeper for people than just as a job, and you have the whole generational aspect of it. The first thing I said when I started this podcast was, "I'm a fifth generation dairy farmer." Right away, the first sentence I just told you about my entire family history, right,

Greg Schonefeld: That's true. And it is like an identity.

Tara Vander Dus...: Totally. It is an identity. That's so well said. And so for me, yeah, the family and the farm go hand in hand, and I think that's maybe why I get so frustrated with the idea of the factory farm, is because no matter the size, dairy farms across the country, it's over 90% of the farms in the United States are family owned and operated, and yet if you learn about one large farm and it turns you off on the whole industry, and it's like overall our country is made up of family farms providing food for our country, I just feel like it's so intertwined, those two words, family and farming.

Greg Schonefeld: I think that's super powerful and probably a great way for the ag industry to connect because I think that's something everybody can relate to.

Tara Vander Dus...: I'll get a lot of questions obviously about milk, what milk to buy for families. And the first thing I tell people is I will literally buy the cheapest milk on the shelf at the grocery store, and that is what I serve my family. And so again, connecting it back to family, people have concerns about what's in their food or how it's raised, and I'm like, I know everything that went into making this gallon of milk, and I feel absolutely confident serving it to my family. And that goes a really long way. Because I think at the end of the day when people have questions about their food, that's ultimately what they actually have a question about. Is this safe for my family? Am I doing the right thing by my family? And so having that connection is really powerful.

Greg Schonefeld: One of the aspects of farm life that often goes unnoticed is the deeply connected family lifestyle it creates. I think it's so cool the way Tara and other farmers raise their kids with work and family intertwined. My kids think work is banging around on a computer. In a world where many families struggle to find quality time together, Tara and her family have built a life where work, education, and family moments blend naturally.

Tara Vander Dus...: It's a really cool way of life to have your kids on your farm. Just this morning, my girls and I... They're homeschooled, so they're home with us. But that's actually one of the reasons we decided to homeschool. They were at school, and they just felt like they were missing out on moments. Today, we walked into our backyard and there was my husband driving around the dairy. He was checking on something. Then we ended up hanging out with him for a little while. He comes home for lunch every single day, and we spend two hours together. Where else does that really happen? That's something that's always been a part of my life. My dad would come up from the dairy up to our house and cook us breakfast before we left for school.

Greg Schonefeld: I think it's really great. And I think some of the great lessons that farming teaches, you got to do your job. There's animals depending on you. There's people depending on you, and I think people who grow up in that environment get to learn that at a young age. I think that's a super cool way to raise your kids in a super cool lifestyle as well.

Tara Vander Dus...: I mean, there's challenges with it, but I do think it's a really old-fashioned, beautiful way of living to be Integral in your family's business, that it's actually where you live and what you do.

Greg Schonefeld: I don't know about you, but today's episode only got me thinking more about the complexities within the ag industry. I'm also struck by the good news, which is that Tara's work showcases. There's also a lot of opportunity out there when it comes to the ag world. There's so much we can learn from Tara's progress and dairy and agriculture as a whole. How can we connect better with the people who produce our food? And how can we improve and promote greater transparency in the egg industry? Tara has shown us that understanding and respect are crucial in this dialogue. Her stories remind us of the values and hard work that sustain our food systems. So what can you do to learn more about the food that you eat? I want to thank Tara for spending time with me today.
Be sure you check out our podcast called Discover Ag, where you can see a great example of consumer connection within agriculture. Thanks for listening to Eggheads. I'm Greg Schonefeld. I look forward to exploring the fascinating world of eggs and agriculture together. Join us next time and be sure to follow us on Spotify, apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Tara, how do you like your eggs prepared?

Tara Vander Dus...: Oh, man. I'm a big egg eater, so I know a lot of eggs. Am I picking my favorite egg dish of all times or my go-to every day?

Greg Schonefeld: Ooh, I want to hear both.

Tara Vander Dus...: Okay, my go-to every day is definitely scrambled eggs. That's pretty much what I have for lunch every single day. But if I am bougie it up at Sunday brunch, I want an eggs benedict on a pork belly. Forget the Canadian bacon. I want a good pork belly with an amazing hollandaise sauce. I don't know if there's really anything better than that.

Greg Schonefeld: Man, that's an awesome answer. And now I'm hungry.