Jill Stahl Tyler and Karen Nielsen have quite a bit in common. They both grew up on farms in the Midwest — Jill on a dairy farm in northern Illinois and Karen on a beef operation in northern Wisconsin. They also share a love for dairy, but most importantly, they share a passion to help educate and connect others with dairying, whether they are an established farmer in Wisconsin or someone interested in what dairying looks like in Australia.
The like-minded women both work through their organizations to connect people with agriculture in countries all over the globe, coming together a few times a year to collaborate on courses such as the upcoming “Making More From Milk” course, a three-day educational opportunity for dairy producers to explore options, specifically the idea of value-added dairy products, on their operations.
“Karen and I have known each other for many years,” said Stahl Tyler, owner of The Global Cow in Brattleboro, Vt.
“We make a great team,” added Nielsen, who heads up Global Dairy Outreach in Madison. “Even though she’s in Vermont and I’m in Wisconsin, we’ve worked a lot to help those in the dairy industry.”
In the early-1990s, Stahl Tyler graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spending some time abroad before making the move to Brattleboro, where she accepted a position with Holstein Association USA. At the association, Stahl Tyler was in charge of a training program in which young people, both national and international, could be matched up with dairy farmers in the U.S. to learn more about the industry.
After two years, the position was eliminated due to liability issues. However, Stahl Tyler was good at her job, and the association encouraged her to take it out on her own. So she did, starting The Global Cow in 1993.
Continuing that main idea sparked at the association, Stahl Tyler now helps match young people to agricultural training experiences all over the world. The business has evolved some since its inception, with more people coming to The Global Cow with specific ideas for training like the value-added dairy course, she said. Others will tell her they know of a country that’s really good at something and are interested in an experience centered around that. Maybe they heard that Australia produces a lot of milk or there is something interesting about dairying in Colombia, to name a couple examples.
Most of the time, Stahl Tyler is matching English-based placements, whether the person needs to be in an English-speaking country or the person wants to improve their English by visiting a country and taking in an experience.
In total, she has helped more than 1,500 young people come to the U.S. to “learn by doing,” living on American dairy farms and gaining valuable international work experience.
On her desk right now are a few applications from Mexicans who, using a specific visa, are looking for work experiences on dairies in the U.S. She is also helping people of other nationalities who do not have access to this specific visa find work experiences, such as a Nicaraguan college student seeking an international internship. Another application details the desire of a Colombian who is interested in an experience in Australia, specifically studying sheep.
Stahl Tyler is always working on a number of placements at any given time during the year, but spring is usually her busiest time as people, particularly Americans, look toward the summer and start penciling in short-term experiences.
“Americans aren’t going out as much, especially dairying Americans,” she said. “We have to shake this idea of graduate high school, go to college and then get to work.”
She has found that Americans tend to shy away from the opportunity to go abroad, even after she encourages them to “dream a little” and explains there are opportunities to earn a salary. Stahl Tyler truly believes an international experience is a great investment in the future — and that it can be life-changing for the traveler.
“With increasing globalization and better technologies, our world is smaller every day. The more international experience we all have, the better decisions we can make from everything — from personal choices to managing dairies,” she said.
International experiences are just as important to Nielsen, who, like Stahl Tyler, decided to reintroduce something that had been eliminated in order to serve the good of the industry. In 1994, Nielsen was working in the UW-Madison Department of Dairy Science as the director of the Babcock Institute for International Dairy Research and Development, providing opportunities for outreach and training, as well as faculty research with an international component.
The institute was earmark funded through U.S. Department of Agriculture grants, but by the end of 2014, that funding had run out, she said. The university tried to keep the institute open, exploring ways to make itself sufficient, but ceased operations on Dec. 31, 2014.
Yet after it closed, people kept contacting Nielsen, looking for training and experiences.
“I didn’t know what to do with all these inquiries,” she said.
That’s when she decided to start Global Dairy Outreach in 2015 as a way to continue to host visitors and connect them with the dairy industry. Fortunately, she had an ally in Stahl Tyler, who offered to include Nielsen’s information on her website and handle monetary transactions through Stahl Tyler’s established e-commerce setup.
Nielsen has made connections all across the dairy industry. She has helped DeLaval connect with Wisconsin dairy farmers who are using their equipment and is looking forward to welcoming an Argentinian professor in June who will be bringing dairy scientists and other experts to UW-Madison. She also does work with agricultural associations such as the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, recommending and helping coordinate speakers, among other items.
“I have a strong feeling for how important small towns and rural areas are for our state,” she said. “I need to do everything I can to keep these small communities successful. I have a passion for it.”
As a way to reach people in communities big and small, Global Dairy Outreach offers two open enrollment courses each year. She partners with Stahl Tyler for each one, teaching “Making More From Milk” in the spring and assisting with an International Dairy Short Course in the fall in conjunction with World Dairy Expo in Madison. About 100 people typically representing 15 countries listen to updates within the dairy industry during the short course, with this fall being the 22nd year for it.
For the fourth time, Stahl Tyler and Nielsen will offer “Making More From Milk” on April 23-25. Several scholarships were available this year through the Wisconsin Farmers Union and Compeer Financial to assist in funding the course, which can be a roadblock for some farmers who want to participate. Stahl Tyler also is conscious of the time commitment for farmers.
“Three days is a huge block of time for dairy farmers,” she said, “but it’s three days to think about your future.”
Each day will focus on different aspects to explore if considering the addition of a value-added product to a dairy farm, with the first day focusing on what value-added dairy is, regulatory concerns and a behind-the-scenes visit to a specialty cheese shop off the Capitol Square.
Participants will tour three dairies on the second day, two cow dairies and one goat dairy, listening to the owners share their stories of the successes and failures, along with the challenges and opportunities.
“Day two is so rewarding,” Nielsen said. “The producers are so honest about their story and why they did what they did. The farmers really relate to the farmers that have tried this, and it really helps people visualize how it would work on their own farms.”
“The folks we visit are super honest,” Stahl Tyler added. “I never thought I’d have some of these blunt answers but everything is valid.”
Day three focuses primarily on branding and marketing, although there is a new addition to the course this year: a panel over lunch featuring four industry experts. A representative from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection wraps up the third day with a session on business planning, and attendees have the option to stay an extra day to watch cheese being made in a small factory setting.
Stahl Tyler organizes quite a few courses through The Global Cow, but the “Making More From Milk” course is her favorite.
“I love the family aspect of it,” she said. “I have fun with every part of what I do, but this is a personal favorite because it comes back to my roots, a family way of life and business.”
Last year, she had two sisters from Wisconsin take the course, along with two brothers from Iowa. One year, an entire family from Guatemala took the course, she recalled.
“It’s fun to watch. Many come to ‘Making More From Milk’ with family in mind,” Stahl Tyler said.
Nielsen keeps in touch with the majority of “Making More From Milk” and World Dairy Expo short course participants, providing them with more resources, connections and a network. She also enjoys the value-added course, especially when families can work together to bring a generation back to the farm thanks to a new product.
“It makes my heart warm to see the connections and networking,” Nielsen said. “But the most rewarding thing is to see the light turn on and realize they have a story on their farm, whether it’s Grandpa Joe’s story, that the family has three blond daughters or maybe there’s an old oak tree on the farm. They do have a story — and now they can think of what product or service they can use to tell that story.”
Their passion for dairy keeps their work going, as they continue to look for ways to better connect people from all over the globe to the world of dairy.
“I’m always humbled by the one thing we share — the love of a cow,” Stahl Tyler said. “And the people who work with cows, they’re a special sort. Interacting with them to make their lives and communities better is the reward.”
For more about The Global Cow and the “Making More From Milk” course, visit globalcow.com.