TULARE COUNTY – National nonprofit Dairy Girl Network (DGN) welcomed three new members to its Board of Directors, including a dairy industry professional from Tulare County.
Jennifer Fernandes Hanf, who was raised on her family’s dairy in Tulare, has joined the board alongside Julie Patterson of Cayuga County, New York, and Lorilee Schultz of Orangeville, Illinois, DGN announced on Jan. 15. A completely virtual organization with members across 49 states, DGN offers free resources and education to women in all corners of the dairy industry.
“This organization is made up of so many women I’ve come to truly respect and admire, and I’ve learned so much and made good connections that have helped me grow personally and professionally,” Fernandes Hanf said. “It’s humbling and a real honor to be nominated and selected, because they had a lot of people to choose from and a lot of people I respect.”
Women of all ages and backgrounds who are interested in pursuing a career in the dairy industry can become DGN members free of charge. Members are spread throughout the country, and DGN aims to reach people where they’re at, so anyone who wants to participate can.
The organization offers webinars and in-person events that work to connect women in the industry with one another and share insights into life in the dairy industry, be that mental health in farming families, dairy business management or livestock veterinary care.
Fernandes Hanf comes from a multigenerational dairy family; her grandfather started his own dairy after immigrating to the United States in 1913, and her father and uncle followed suit.
As a child, Fernandes Hanf grew up working on the family dairy alongside her sister and seven brothers, and loved working with the cows. She was heavily involved in 4-H and dairy- and cattle-related activities, but said she never thought she would go into the dairy industry until she went to college.
When she began studying at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Fernandes Hanf said she realized that part of what she loved about the dairy industry was the people.
“We had a shared bond in that we liked taking care of the animals, weren’t afraid of hard work, and then just knowing that dairy producers were producing nutritious food that helped to feed the world — that is, I think, a noble calling,” Fernandes Hanf said.
She found a way to combine her interest in software and technology with her passion for dairy, and spent the bulk of her career working as IT director for Visalia-based company World Wide Sires.
In 2019, Fernandes Hanf relocated to the Pismo Beach area and began working as the vice president of product for Milc Group, a San Luis Obispo technology firm that develops herd, feed and employee management software for dairies.
Dairy Girl Network
It was through a colleague at Milc Group that Ferndades Hanf discovered DGN. After attending a DGN event in San Luis Obispo, Fernandes Hanf said she was impressed by all of the people involved and found what they were talking about and working on really interesting.
“It was exciting because traditionally the dairy industry hasn’t had a whole lot of women in it, and being in technology there weren’t a lot of women in my career in technology either, and here this organization was with all these ladies,” Fernandes Hanf said. “From there, I started signing up for the webinars (and) tried to get involved in as many activities as possible.”
The DGN Board of Directors is made up of 12 people elected to three-year terms; board members can serve up to three full terms and are voted onto the board by current members after a nomination, application and interview process.
Amanda Borkowski, interactive media lead for DGN, said board members play a pivotal role in developing programs and resources for the organization’s members. They focus on strategic planning, messaging and brainstorming on where there may be gaps in existing programs, and also take on active volunteer roles within DGN programs.
When selecting members, Borkowski said the board considers things like geographic diversity, previous leadership experience, activity within the industry and a person’s belief in the organization’s mission.
As a board member, Fernandes Hanf said she hopes to help expand the network in the western United States, as many members are concentrated in the Midwest.
“What I’m looking forward to is helping DGN continue to grow its reach, to connect and inspire more women,” Fernandes Hanf said. “I think by bringing and helping have a platform or a place to connect to help with personal and business development, we’re bringing more varied and unique skill sets to the industry.”
DGN is celebrating its 10th birthday this year, and will be hosting an in-person national conference in Kansas City in November, Borkowski said.
The organization will also be present at the World Ag Expo in Tulare and is hosting a connection event at 10 a.m. on Feb. 14 at the International Agri-Center. Those interested in attending can RSVP online.