Thursday, September 13, 2012

The End of the Dairy Business Innovation Center

On Sept. 30, a simple idea that started in a break room over a frozen dinner and evolved into one of the most effective and efficient dairy innovation catalysts ever, will come to an end.

That's right: 8 years, 43 new dairy plants, 72 expanded dairy plants, more than 50 new cheese varieties and hundreds of realized dreams later, the Dairy Business Innovation Center will close its virtual doors because of a lack of funding.

For me, watching the DBIC end is like losing a member of my family. It is personal. It is raw. I am grieving, and I know Wisconsin cheesemakers are grieving with me.

For those of you who know me, you know this organization has made me the person I am today. From the moment I met DBIC Founder Dan Carter in 2004, and he asked me to be part of a team that aimed to help grow artisan cheese in Wisconsin (my response: what's artisan cheese?) to the moment 9 months ago when I walked away as communications director because I could not stomach watching the organization die, DBIC blood has run in my veins. Hell, it still does. It probably always will.

For the life of me, I can not understand why an organization that helped more than 200 dairy farmers, artisan, farmstead and specialty cheesemakers, milk processors, yogurt makers, ice cream manufacturers, and buttermakers with no- to low-cost, world-class technical, business and marketing assistance, was simply allowed to shrivel up and die.

Perhaps it was because we didn't have a fancy logo or neon-lighted building. Maybe it was because we never made a DBIC banner or printed four-color brochures. Perhaps it was because I didn't tell the story often or well enough, not wanting to (but sometimes doing so anyway) stepping on partner organization toes or turf. Maybe it was because we lost our champion in the honorable Senator Herb Kohl, who diligently secured funding for five consecutive years, but when earmarks were declared politically incorrect, could no longer conjure up needed funds.

What I can tell you is that like all endings of government-run not-for-profits, this ending was pointlessly political.

What I can tell you is that I'm pretty sure every cheesemaker who opened a new cheese plant or launched a new product doesn't care whose administration the organization started under.

What I can tell you is that I'm pretty sure every dairy farmer who received grant funds to modernize his fourth-generation family farm doesn't care which industry organization got the credit.

What I can tell you is the people - yes the real people that we helped - simply cared about results. And we had results. We had $1.2 billion in industry reinvestment worth of results.

What a shame that in the end, results didn't matter. In the end, politics won. And for that, Wisconsin cheesemakers and dairy farmers will suffer.

For every cheesemaker, every wannabe cheesemaker, every dairy farmer, every little girl and boy growing up on a farm and dreaming of it one day being theirs, please know this: the core team of DBIC consultants -- the folks who were there in the beginning and who stayed to the end -- still have the best interest of Wisconsin's dairy industry at heart. We are passionate. We want to help you. We want to move forward. We are dedicated to continuing the growth of artisan, farmstead and specialty dairy products in Wisconsin, and we don't care a whiff about politics. You'll find us continuing our work in the industry. Seek us out.

2 comments:

Janine at Rustic Kitchen said...

Oh no. I read this post the other day and had to step away - it's such distressing news. Hat's off to you and Dan Carter and all the others who have done so much to help cheesemakers and dairy farmers in Wisconsin. You made a difference.

Alyssa said...

I'm so sad to read this Jeanne. I've been wondering about this ever since I heard they lost their funding and can't believe it is actually this real. My condolences to you and all who were involved in this fantastic organization. You definitely told the story well, and I came to know all I do about DBIC and our dairy industry from you. Thank you for that and for your contribution to every farmer and producer in our state that is where they are today because of people like you and everyone at DBIC.