Reality shows have taken over our televisions. Gone are the days of scripted sitcoms and dramas ruling prime time. They have been replaced by wealthy women behaving badly and people looking for love in all the wrong places.

Being a millennial, although just by the skin of my teeth, I tuned in when MTV introduced the Real World, watching in fascination as the odd assortment of people from all walks of life did as the show’s tag line promised “when people stop being polite and start getting real.” The result wasn’t always pretty, but it kept people watching. The Real World aired for the first time in 1992, and is set to enter its 29th season this month.

What drives people to watch reality television? While the Waltons and the Cleaver family may have been close to perfect, their perfectness didn’t reflect the lives of the people at home. If art is supposed to imitate life and we’re honest with ourselves, we may have to admit our day to day-lives more closely resemble the arguing couple on Amazing Race than the Van Dykes. Who knows, maybe the Waltons and the Cleavers would still be around if Pa had a bit of a drinking problem and June spent the mortgage money on a new pair of Jimmy Choos.

If you’ve ever been to a dairy conference that included media training, you’ve likely walked away with a little spiral bound book of ideas covering a variety of topics on what we should say to our customers if they have questions. The book is filled with the “perfect” answers to questions our customers ask. While I love these books for their ideas, we can’t expect our customers will be satisfied with our answers if we just stick to the talking points. Talking points are a great start and can give the confidence boost needed to speak up, but they can’t form a real conversation about our food.

If a customer asks us about a YouTube video showing cows being abused, or questions whether it really is okay to separate cows and calves, they don’t want to hear a talking point from us. If they are coming to a dairy farmer for the facts, we at least owe them a response that takes more time and thought than throwing out an overly rehearsed line.

So what happens when people stop being nice (generic) and start getting real when it comes to talking to our customers? It’s been my experience telling the unvarnished truth doesn’t scare off our customers, but instead strengthens the bond. I share that we have cows die and some days don’t go well on the farm, because pretending that life is perfect isn’t the transparency our customers want. Despite the difficult nature of the topics I share, the comments I receive back are overwhelmingly positive. People understand life on the farm is no more perfect than their own lives.

Before Deadliest Catch put a chain-smoking, insult-hurling, far-from-perfect face on commercial fishing, not many people cared about the people bringing the fish from the Bering Sea to their plates. Tell the show’s Sig Hansen to stick to talking points and he’ll tell you where to go; that’s why people love him.

Telling our full story, beyond the talking points, shows that instead of being the perfect Walton family, we are honest, hard-working, imperfect, relatable, interesting and, most of all, “real” people.

Isn’t that the goal?

Carrie Mess farms in partnership with her husband Patrick and his parents on their 100-cow, 300-acre dairy farm near Lake Mills, Wis. She also speaks to agricultural organizations, empowering farmers to tell their own stories through social media.

“Dairy Carrie” can be reached via:


Twitter: @DairyCarrie


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