MILK MEN explores the dairy industry in the Pacific Northwest, following farmers through changing seasons in this scenic agricultural terrain. What emerges is a fascinating tale of modernity and pressures to grow-or-die.
MILK MEN provides a corrective to both the highly romanticized and demonized portraits of dairy farmers that circulate in the mainstream media. Two stereotypes predominate, and both are gross distortions of the reality. One image—enlisted routinely in dairy commercials—evokes idyllic pastoral scenes inhabited by simple people tending their contented cows. These scenes invite nostalgia for a pre-modern way of life where humans lived in perfect harmony with animals and nature. The second image—the one most often drawn by anti-dairy critics—casts the farmer as an animal abuser, pushing over-bred cows until they drop and producing large vats of drug-laden milk. Whether the cheery bucolic scene or the darkly cast world of the CAFO, both pictures miss the complexity of this form of work, with its mix of business skills, animal science, technology, engineering, and social networks required to keep the enterprise going.
Women involved in farming also are either stereotyped or invisible in mainstream films. Once associated with “milk maids,” the embodiment of wholesomeness and fecundity, dairy farming did become by the 19th century a primarily male occupation. Yet women continue to play important roles in agricultural production, whether as farmer’s wives and daughters equally involved in the dairy or, increasingly, as inspectors and scientists.
Whether in community theaters, schools or film festivals, documentary films are ideally suited for generating dialogue. MILK MEN challenges conventional stereotypes of farming communities, and establishes through the language of film areas of common ground between urban and rural communities. From inter-generational obligations to ethical dilemmas in farming practices, the film brings the historical knowledge of farmers into social questions at the very heart of modern life.
WHAT EDUCATORS SAY ABOUT MILK MEN
"Jan Haaken has taken on animal agriculture – specifically dairy farming – in this movie. She produced this movie for the “non-farming people” as one dairy farmer describes the rest of us. This is for everybody who knows that the little red barn and green pasture no longer represent modern farming but are searching for an honest insight into animal agriculture. MILK MEN addresses tough questions, from animal and labor welfare to the role of women in family farming. The film provides an honest insight into the tough lives that dairy farmers still live.
"I thank Jan Haaken for respecting viewers’ intelligence by not trying to disguise the truth or attempting to influence the message through biased reporting. After watching this movie, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of fairness. Here is a snapshot into the families and companies that make up animal agriculture – it’s now up to the rest of us – the “non-farming-people” to watch and make up our mind if we feel reassured as we reach for the next piece of cheese. As an educator, this is exactly the type of movie that I appreciate and will use in my classes. It respects the intelligence of my students and provides an honest insight into animal agriculture."
Lisbeth Goddick, Ph.D.
Food Science & Technology, Oregon State University
Materials for Educators
Haaken, J. (June, 2016). FETA (Farmers for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Meets PETA. Progressive Dairyman. (PDF version)
Haaken, J. (March, 2016). Milk and manure: Dairy farmers as social psychologists. Progressive Dairyman. (PDF version)