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Woman At Work: Dairy Farmer Tara Vander Dussen

Pronouns: she/her

What does a day in your work life look like?

My day to day work life can be kind of unpredictable. I work as an environmental scientist for my family dairy farmer and for my clients' dairy farms. Some days, I have meetings with my clients going over their nutrient management or meeting with regulations on my client's behalf. Other days, I am out in the field sampling wells, lagoons and manure. And many days, I am working from my office, analyzing data and putting together permits and reports.

What made you start doing the amazing things that you do?

After years of growing up on a dairy and working on farms, I realized there was a huge disconnect between the farmer and the consumer. With my passion for dairy farming, I desperately wanted to change that. I wanted to share the truth about modern dairy farming and give consumers a place where they could ask a farmer questions about where their food comes from. This passion led me to start blogging and sharing online as the New Mexico Milkmaid. Looking back, I am so thankful I took that leap of faith. The people I have met and the opportunities I have had have been incredible!

Did you complete any training? If not, how did you learn your trade/skill?

I graduated from the University of Arizona with my degree in soil, water and environmental science with a focus in soil chemistry. While my degree did not have a dairy aspect, growing up on my family dairy gave me my background on dairy farming. I love being able to combine my love of dairy with my degree in environmental science to help dairy producers with state and federal regulations and permits.

What’s important to you with YOUR dairy products? What do you think we need to know and think about as a mom?

Being a mom has made me look at everything in a new way. I give my daughters milk and yogurt every day and I want to be sure it is a healthy product that is produced in a sustainable way. We live right on our farm and drink the same water as our cows. Not only do I want to make sure our milk is the highest quality, but that our farm is taking care of our land and water for future generations.

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What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?

I have sat in meeting after meeting where I am the only woman in a room filled with men. I have been asked if my husband forces me to go to producer meetings or why I would want to attend industry meetings. But the tide is turning. I can feel it and you can see it. Every year, there are more and more women getting involved. I love seeing women in agriculture and women who farm. It is powerful and I can't wait to see where we take agriculture.

Who’s a role model who helped you in your journey to where you are now? 

I know this is going to sound so cliche, but my mom is my hero. She is the most amazing woman in my life. I could not do my job with my crazy schedule, and be the mom to my girls that I want to be, without the help of my mom.

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If you could give your 20-year-old-self advice, what would it be?

To stop and enjoy each moment. I spent a lot of time worrying about what was coming up next and focusing on the next step of my career or my life. It’s important to live in the moment and be present.

Do you have any special projects or cool things you want people to check out?

I would love to have you all follow along with my journey and our dairy farm. You can find me on Instagram as @newmexicomilkmaid.

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