NY-FARM-TO-CITY FIRST! Telling Milk’s Story at “Just Food”

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My friend TAMMY GRAVES wrote the guest post for my FOODOGRAPHY blog today. It also made the cover of today’s Farmshine newspaper, telling how she and dairywomen Deb Windecker and Lorraine Lewandrowski of Herkimer County NY had the rare opportunity to present a 75-minute workshop telling milk’s story at the JUST FOOD CONFERENCE in New York City. Great Job Ladies!

NEW YORK, N.Y. – For the first time, New York State dairy farmers were on the workshop list at the Just Food Conference March 29-30 in New York City. A 75-minute presentation entitled “Introduction to the New York Milk Shed” was prepared and offered by Herkimer County dairy farmers Lorraine Lewandrowski and Deb Windecker of Newport and Schuyler, respectively. Tammy Graves, a dairy farmer advocate from Otsego County also contributed by explaining the mutually dependent relationship between consumers and dairy farmers.

“We provided faces and stories about our milk for attendees. Many more conversations still need to occur, but it was a huge step in bridging the gap,” Deb Windecker reported. “So many people think there are antibiotics in our milk. We are pleased to report that we dispelled that myth by explaining the penalties and protocols that are in place at the farm, at the processing plant, and with our regulators, to ensure that never occurs.”

The presentation provided answers in four parts: 1) Where is dairy farming in New York State? 2) Why should you care about a Milk Shed and/or dairy farmers? 3) What does a dairy farmer do?  4) Why should you eat real dairy products?

Our message was “Milk is clean and safe. Milk is water. Milk means healthy cows. Milk is Local. Milk is a life’s work.”

Part One of the workshop for Just Food consumer advocates summarized the facts and included a visual overview of the NY Milk Shed: 5100 dairy farms, 610,000 cows, 113-cow average herd size. A pictorial tour of the milk regions (Lower Hudson, Upper Hudson, North Country, Mohawk Valley and Western New York) was the background for discussion. The discussion included a look at the diversity among NY dairy farms in terms of cow breeds, farm size by acreage, herd sizes and strengths and prominent resources by region.

Part Two illustrated the long-standing connection New York City has had with dairy farmers, highlighting the 1939 milk strike. As a result of the milk strike, then NYC Mayor Laguardia was an advocate and influencer for achieving adequate farm milk pricing at that time. Cheese pack boats, milk trains and today’s tractor trailers carrying 150,000 glasses of milk were mentioned. 

Additionally, Lewandrowski emphasized why the average New Yorker should be concerned about the state’s dairy farms.  A series of photos accompanied her points regarding economic development, food security, open space, watershed protection, floodplains, biodiversity, rural tradition, and the diversity of people working in New York’s dairy industry.

Part Three of the presentation evoked the most questions from attendees as it gave a micro-view of the cycle involving a dairy cow, a dairy farmer and soil. Growing seasons, equipment costs, feed storage were discussed, in addition to milking procedures and newborn calf care. 

Part Four explained that buying real dairy products translates to eating food that most closely mirrors the clean and safe milk that dairy farmers put into the milk truck. Attendees were very appreciative to learn that not all brands or types of cheese and Greek yogurt are created equal. 

“The experience provided us with invaluable insight to perspectives and beliefs of individuals that are keen on food topics,” the presenters reflected after the event. New York City residents who attended left with a better understanding.  One member of the audience approached the presenters about the possibility of chartering a bus to bring New York City food and farm-interested people to visit dairy farms upstate and to spend a day at the Fair.

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