Producers unite to send clear message to policymakers and consumers, website takes it to the next level.
By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019
RICHLAND, Pa. — Nelson Troutman has been making the ‘Milk Baleboards’ since January. The Berks/Lebanon County dairy farmer came up with the idea after the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board listening session in December.
“It’s very important that the bales all have the same message: ‘Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT-FREE.’ Don’t try to get funny with it. You could take the ‘local’ off and just focus on the ‘whole milk,’ but mainly to have impact, we want the bales to have the same message,” he said while painting bales in his shop during my visit last Saturday morning to the farm where he and his wife Mary live and which is now rented to a young couple for their dairy herd.
He still farms the land he has lived on his entire life, and he makes the feed for that herd and his son’s herd nearby. (In fact his daughter in law Renee wrote about whole milk recently, with a historical twist!)
Nelson has made 20 Milk Baleboards so far (check out his DIY tips at the end of this story). And he has seen new ones pop up from others following suit.
He has had 10 phone calls from fellow farmers as far away as New York, and has talked to so many more at meetings — out and about. He tells them: “Put a bale out… unless you are satisfied with your milk price.”
Did he think it would take off like it has? “No I didn’t,” he says. But he’s glad to see others joining in and hopes to see it catch on even more.
Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia has been doing all he can to get other agribusinesses to put them out. In addition to Morrissey Insurance having one on their property along Rte 272 north of Ephrata, the Milk Baleboards are popping up along other main routes like 23, 322, and 422, to name a few.
“Our advertising checkoff dollars just didn’t seem to be doing a very good job these past 10 years. They have been promoting fat free and low-fat 1% milk and the fat free yogurt — not much whole milk,” Nelson relates.
“After the listening session with the PMMB, some of us were talking. We thought it was time to do something different, something like letting consumers know whole milk is 97% fat free,” he said further. “We didn’t come up with a plan that day. We were thinking about a billboard, but that was far too expensive. We thought about portable signs.”
Then over the weekend after that December meeting, he looked around. “I thought to myself that I already have the perfect thing: A wrapped hay bale! So, I painted one. I set it in the pasture at our crossroad. We farmers have silos, wagons, barns and sheds we can paint signs on.”
Lots of feedback has come in, and it seemed no one knew whole milk was 97% fat free. Some said “why are we drinking 2% milk, when whole milk tastes so much better?”
Nelson observes that young and older people said they never thought about how much fat or nutrition is in milk. “It seems so sad how people are misled by our checkoff dollars, our doctors and medical people — and our federal dietary guidelines committee.”
He admits that people are easily confused. To be sure, the bales are attracting attention, leading to questions.
While it started out as a way to send a clear and unified message to consumers and especially policymakers, Nelson said the information is so surprising to people that it offers educational opportunities.
That’s why R&J Dairy Consulting invited Nelson and Bernie to a meeting of dairy farmers last Friday to see what could be done to use this teachable moment.
The group decided to purchase a website domain — 97MILK.com, and direct people there to learn more: What is whole milk? How does it compare? What is Real Milk, Local Milk?
The website can help unite these efforts, and bring additional excitement to the project. For example, at the meeting organized by R&J Consulting, their marketing manager Jackie Behr said when she asked peers what questions they have about milk, she ended up with a whole list.
“Let’s use this opportunity to educate consumers and help them make a good choice,” she said. The group decided to start out with key simple answers to frequent questions. Many businesses and people are pulling together in various ways that it is impossible to name them all here. That will come in a future Milk Baleboard update.
Jackie at R&J, with some help from others, got the website 97milk.com up and running within seven days. This includes a facebook page @97Milk, so check it all out!