From GENYOUth to Gen-Z, dairy checkoff’s strategic integration game revealed

In what was billed as a “National Dairy Month” zoom news conference May 26, Gen Z was the focus as DMI activated its new thing: ‘strategic integration.’ Speaking were clockwise from top left, Scott Wallin, VP Industry Media Relations; Anne Warden, Exec. VP Strategic Integration; Barb O’Brien, DMI President; Jordan Maron (aka Captain Sparklez), popular Minecraft gamer; Nevin Lemos, Gen Z California dairy producer.

Who plays? Who pays? Who wins?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 28, 2021

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Strategic integration. Gen Z Gamers. Point of origin for innovation. Dairy-‘based’ positioning. Virtual authenticity. Over a decade of planning.

My head is spinning after a DMI press conference this week on three new “activations” for June Dairy Month in the digital world of video games, including “Beat the Lag,” a gamer-recipe contest and the integration of Fuel Up to Play 60 into the virtual world of video gaming exercise.

Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) has been on a 12- to 13-year path to streamline, dilute, blend and innovate dairy with a focus squarely on Gen Z since 2008 in the schools, now integrating rapidly into the digital spaces where dairy checkoff leaders say Gen Z is changing the world of marketing for companies globally.

According to DMI, Gen Z is not interested in facts like vitamins and minerals. They want to know how foods and beverages will make them feel.

On the other hand, DMI leaders described Gen Z as “very capable of discovering facts,” of “looking deeper” for “authenticity” and “relatability,” that when communicating with Gen Z “you want to be really factual and transparent and tap into the emotions that they care about.”

(The paradox of virtual authenticity is hard to overlook.)

Taking center stage at DMI’s Undeniably Dairy website (usdairy.com) was the Beat the Lag Gen Z gamer competition in which this photo is the recipe contest centerpiece from which DMI will glean pathways to “launch future dairy innovations.” That tiny sprinkle of cheese makes this a dairy-based snack, says DMI in a special National Dairy Month media conference by zoom on May 26. usdairy.com screenshot

Dairy-based or ‘sprinkled’ is the future, some cheese on a pizza or snack. Butter in a cookie, splash of milk in a smoothie, a bit of cream added to a soda, a half ultrafiltered low-fat milk / half almond beverage blend. A little here, a little there. Don’t confuse or interrupt DMI’s ‘strategic integration’ flow by talking about having a glass of whole milk or a piece of cheese. DMI’s website has a few posts lately talking about how blending is the future of dairy — tailor-made for flexitarian messaging in the confusing and not-quite-factual climate-impact comparisons and discussion.

It’s all about innovation of new products, integrating (and diluting) milk as a component of beverages. Looking deeper, it’s really all about increasing margins for processors beyond the farmgate in the ramped up $100 billion dollar global “functional beverage” space, also known as ‘designer beverages.’

Gen Z has been DMI’s target for over a decade as the gateway, the point of origin for how strategic integration innovation will be accomplished with dairy farmer checkoff funds.

Anne Warden, executive vice president of Strategic Integration for DMI spoke in the zoom press conference May 26, explaining how DMI has been “focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition (in 2008).”

In fact, in a May 25, 2021 blog post by Warden, she talks about the future of dairy in schools, that Gen Z wants flashy packaging, unique combinations and sustainable dispensers.

According to Warden, Gen Z is the generation DMI has been working on since the launch of Fuel Up to Play 60, which was followed by the formation of GENYOUth and the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with USDA under Secretary Tom Vilsack in that 2008-10 time period.

This is the very same time period in which the option of whole milk as a beverage choice was removed from schools, even in the Smart Snacks rules governing ala carte beverage purchases and vending machines – paving the way for strategic integration. Put some milk in that soda, maybe? (That will make sense in a few minutes).

Last fall, Farmshine reported on the “partnering” DMI did with Gen Z ‘gamers’ in the popular Minecraft game, which included three dairy farms hosting three gamers to see how dairies operate. But the partnership that is now moving into integration warp-speed through three June Dairy Month “activations” has been years in the making.

Warden was hired by DMI in May of 2019 to head the strategic integration. Prior to that date, she spent three years at Edelman with DMI’s strategic integration as her primary project for Edelman. Warden’s resume at Linked-In notes DMI as one of Edelman’s largest and most integrated services clients.

This means ‘strategic integration’ — courtesy of all-knowing Edelman — has been underway at DMI for more than 5 years. Have we ever heard of it before now? No, because this is what the ‘precompetitive’ Innovation Center works on, where future strategies are decided upon via DMI’s ‘industry partners’ and quietly implemented with dairy farmer dollars.

Warden laid out the rationale for the three activations aimed at using Gen Z’s “love of video games to capture their attention and show how dairy products fit well within their gaming occasions during the day.”

DMI president Barb O’Brien stressed the point that DMI is looking at gaming as a platform with the objectives of communication and “research.”

“The work that’s coming through now with new product concepts, make this a consumer research method to understand where Gen Z will place their dollars in considering new products,” O’Brien related. “So it’s fantastic. (Gaming) is a channel, an occasion and a communications vehicle. It’s all about contemporizing how we do the work of the checkoff. It is the new advertising. Television is one-way. This is interactive.”

(Authentic, relatable, interactive content is deemed the key to communicating with Gen Z in a virtual digital world of gaming to bring forth new products. Let that paradox sink in.)

One of three activations discussed was “Beat the Lag.”

Lag is a term used to describe the frustration that happens when a video game’s graphics won’t load fast enough so the gamer has to wait (like the frustration of your computer screen freezing). DMI is taking that concept, partnering with Jordan Maron, known as Captain Sparklez to his 11 million followers to address “human lag.”

Over the past six weeks (ending May 29), DMI has been running a gaming recipe conest through Maron, soliciting “dairy-based” snack, beverage and recipe ideas from his followers, what do they eat to ‘Beat the Lag?’

DMI wants Gen Z to bring the ideas. “We don’t want to tell them what to eat (or drink),” said Warden.

During the press conference Maron noted that he got involved when approached by DMI because he “eats a lot of dairy.”

“One of my favorite foods is pizza,” said Maron. “I’m an especially huge fan of drinks that have added milk or cream in them, like sodas with cream added… They’re delicious. I love them.”

(A splash of milk or cream in a soda is something that had a hey-day three generations ago. Apparently, it’s making a comeback.)

Maron talked about doing some focus group work for DMI on “new product innovations” last fall along with a virtual farm tour.

“Me, and a few people who are followers of mine, got together in a call, and DMI shared their ideas for products they want to roll out down the line,” said Maron. “We took it to my focus group of three people and then turned that into Instagram story slides I was able to share out with a wider range of followers, and they were able to give their feedback as to what products would interest them, that they would buy or eat in the future.”

Maron said he hoped that his focus group gave DMI “some good insight.”

The press conference moderator, Scott Wallin of DMI, promptly steered away from the product innovation revelation and brought the conversation back to the farm tours and sustainability, saying DMI hopes to show Gen Z gamers the dairy story through Captain Sparklez and others.

Wallin introduced Gen Z dairy farmer Nevin Lemos of California. The 24-year-old fourth generation dairyman started his own 400-cow Jersey herd on a rented farm near his family’s dairy at the age of 20. Lemos admitted he doesn’t have much time for gaming over the past 10 years as his time and passion are spent working his dairy business.

Lemos observed that Gen Z is a generation able to “look behind the façade, to look deeper.”

Calling Gen Z a “savvy audience,” Warden said they exist almost entirely in the digital world, moving between multiple devices and media platforms daily, with 90% of Gen-Zers gaming.

They are aware of what companies are doing for good – beyond making money — and will turn away from products that “don’t match their values and their desire for authenticity,” said Warden, emphasizing Gen Z’s interest to know what companies are doing for the environment.

“We’re going to make sure farmers they can relate to (like Lemos) are showing up in their social media feeds to tell that story,” she said.

Gen Z gamer Maron talked about what it was like last fall to do the virtual farm tour with Gen Z dairyman Lemos, seeing how cows live and are fed and having one named after him: Sparklez.

The activation of DMI’s “Beat the Lag” is aimed at more than sustainability, said Warden, it is to “help re-position milk and dairy to meet Gen Z’s wellness needs.

“It’s about balance,” she continued. “Gen Z is less interested in the particulars of vitamins and minerals in their food or beverage. They are more interested in what that food is going to do for their bodies, how it is going to make them feel.”

Warden said DMI’s research shows that, “Some of dairy’s biggest opportunities with Gen Z are positioning as a food that will sustain their energy throughout the day or let them feel relaxed and recharged while doing the things that they love.”

“Beat the Lag” is themed around “dairy-based foods and beverages giving gamers an energy boost or a tasty pick-me-up after a long stretch of gaming,” said Warden. “We’re not going to tell them what to eat, we’re letting Jordan Maron (Captain Sparklez) and Rosanna Pansino, a gamer and culinary influencer, get gamers suggesting the ideas in ways they can relate to.”

Maron talked about ‘gamer fuel up’ youtube videos he did with Pansino, one being pizza pockets (with cheese).

“This is a contest, and when the (Beat the Lag) contest is all wrapped up, we’ll look at the recipes submitted,” he said, indicating that the winners will be shown in stages through the Minecraft game and win gaming prizes.

In addition to pizza pockets, other snack recipe ideas at the usdairy.com website under “Game On” and “Beat the Lag” include a bowl of vegetables and avocados, with the tiniest sprinkling of grated cheese. A demonstration is posted there also for making “Pixel Jam Heart” cookies. 

During the videos, Maron and Pansino talk about the contest suggesting smoothies, dips, protein drinks and things made with yogurt as ideas for creative contest submissions.

DMI’s O’Brien said: “This is today’s new form of advertising. It’s an opportunity to set the record straight on the nutritional side (vs. major advertising in all venues by plant-based dairy alternatives.)”

She said this avenue allows for “the exchange of factual information,” but was quick to point out that those nutrition facts “are not what is driving Gen Z’s choices.”

Bottom line? The virtual digital world of Gen Z gamers is, according to DMI president O’Brien, “the forum for putting forward innovation, for putting forward innovative products that are relevant to today’s lifestyle. We will be leading with products that are designed for gamers, by gamers, we know will have a much bigger appreciation beyond just gamers…

“We’ll see those products at retail. We’ll see those products at traditional foodservice. This is the point of origin for that innovation, and the inspiration,” she stated matter-of-factly.

There’s a lot to digest here, pieces of a dairy transformation agenda funded by farmers through checkoff. It’s important to know what checkoff dollars are doing in the integration phase of a 12 to 13 year plan to join the milk-disruptors with dairy-based innovations, now putting Gen Z gamers virtually in charge of how DMI’s products that are ready to roll down the line, come to market.

Meanwhile, a Hartman Group survey recently showed Gen Z prefers fast food and familiar tastes with a much lower attention paid to local, fresh products than prior generations. It’s no wonder. This generation has been worked over by PepsiCo, Domino’s, Sodexo, General Mills, brought into schools by USDA via the MOU marriage of low-fat / high-carb Dietary Guidelines and low-fat / high-carb promotion through Dairy Checkoff’s ‘school wellness foundation’ GENYOUth.

In this game, the obvious questions are: Who plays? Who pays? And who wins? 

After that trip into virtual authenticity, I need a tall cold glass of real whole milk to relax and recharge.

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‘Got milk, PA? Ag Sec awards $400,000 Farm-to-School, but where’s the milk?

PA Farm Bill Farm-to-School education grants aim to bridge the gap between children and the food system by connecting them to the fresh, healthy food available from Pennsylvania agricultural producers in their community and the surrounding areas. The 39 grants announced April 30th, totaling $400,000 for 2020-21, and they are thin on real dairy even though real dairy is 37% of Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy. Composite image by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 14, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Increasing childhood nutrition and agricultural awareness is the stated purpose of $400,000 in grant awards made recently as part of the Pennsylvania Farm Bill.

On April 30th, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding announced 39 Farm to School grants of up to $15,000 each “to improve access to healthy, local foods and increase agricultural awareness opportunities for children pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.”

The trouble is, among the 39 projects receiving the total of $400,000, dairy is not mentioned, even though the Secretary recently confirmed when asked by state senators that dairy accounts for 37% of the Commonwealth’s agricultural backbone.

(As reported in Farmshine April 23, the Secretary also evaded Senate questions about legalizing whole milk as a simple choice for children in Pennsylvania schools, citing instead that the Dietary Guidelines maintain three servings of dairy a day and that the industry should focus on all the dairy products in school meals.)

“The children of today are the future of Pennsylvania agriculture,” said Redding in a press release announcing the $400,000 in Farm to School grants that are part of the PA Farm Bill’s 2020-21 budget cycle.

“Reviewing these 39 projects, and their goals to invest in programming that not only improves childhood nutrition but gives them opportunities for first-hand agricultural experiences to grow their knowledge and awareness, I see a bright future for the industry that feeds Pennsylvania,” Redding stated.

According to the Pa. Department of Agriculture statements, this grant program “aims to enrich the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local producers by changing food purchasing and education at schools and early childhood education sites.”

Any school district, charter school or private school with pre-kindergarten classes, kindergarten, or elementary through fifth grade was eligible to apply.

This week, Farmshine questioned the Pa. Department of Agriculture about the glaring absence of milk in the list of 39 grants awarded. Most of the grants involved school gardens and were tied to local produce grown in Pennsylvania. Some were projects linking to local poultry and eggs.

Dairy and beef were not mentioned at all. The only (not really) dairy reference in the Department’s press release was a grant to the Dubois Area School District in conjunction with Danone North America.

Before thinking Danone represents dairy in this case, think again.

Dubois is home to Danone’s flagship plant-based dairy-free alternative ‘yogurt’, ‘cheese’ and powdered ‘nutritional’ beverage plant.

In fact, Danone’s 180,000 square foot facility on 24 acres of the former airport in Clearfield County is the largest plant-based dairy-alternative plant in the United States.

At the 2019 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Danone’s multi-million-dollar plant-based expansion, the facility’s director, Chad Stone, highlighted “flexitarian” eating patterns as “people are interested in lessening their impact on the environment through diet.”

This plant-based “environmental” theme is already being pushed into school curricula and school foodservice at the national level (see related article in this edition of Farmshine).

In the Pa. Department of Agriculture’s response to our questions about the Farm to School grants lacking dairy, spokesperson Shannon Powers replied to identify five of the 39 grants as “including a dairy component in their application.”

One of the five she highlighted is the Clearfield County grant of $14,985 to the Dubois Area School District for “experiential learning and curricula” that includes “life on a dairy farm” via a field trip to a dairy farm (Kennis Farm was identified in the application). Powers also identified Danone as “a major dairy producer” but indicated that this grant provides experiential learning and curricula through the Danone facility in Dubois “that produces plant-based foods and beverages.”

Instead of using real local milk to make real yogurt, cheese and nutritional beverage powders, this Danone plant specializes in bringing in almonds, coconuts and cashews to make dairy substitutes as a so-called means of reducing “environmental impact” with new “choices” on grocery shelves.

(It’s hard to imagine how the almonds, cashews and coconuts listed in the Vega Protein, So Delicious and Silk brand yogurt, cheese and powder made at the Dubois plants could be locally-grown in Pennsylvania, a top-10 real dairy milk-producing state that is admittedly in ‘search’ of more dairy processing capability).

As for the other four Farm to School grants the Department identified in an email response as containing a dairy component, they are as follows:

In Erie County, a grant for $15,000 to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants will do an experiential learning project that includes a dairy field trip.

In Lawrence County, the LCSS Healthy Start Micro Farm Project received $10,000 for a project that includes the purchase of local cheeses and other foods along with a school garden to supply the school kitchen.

In Lackawanna County, a grant of $3,356 to the Bright Future Learning Center was awarded to distribute Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes to preschool children and includes farm field trips. The application noted that fresh local milk would be included in the CSA produce boxes.

In Tioga and Bradford counties, a $15,000 grant was awarded to Stepping Stones Preschool and includes a field trip to a dairy farm to learn about the cheese-making process.

“The PA Farm Bill’s Farm to School grants are awarded to schools and other educational entities to foster early interest in and exposure to agriculture careers and to encourage students to consume fresh, locally-produced foods and develop healthy eating habits,” writes Powers in her Pa. Department of Agriculture response to Farmshine’s questions.

She notes that while dairy is not specifically mentioned in applicants’ proposals, “dairy destinations and themes are included among field trips, and dairy is part of curricula schools develop with grant funds.”

Dairy products are already “virtually always among PA-produced foods served in schools but getting locally-sourced produce into school lunch programs is a greater challenge,” Powers as Pa. Dept. of Agriculture spokesperson stated.

While dairy has been a predominantly ‘local’ product in schools over the years, today, local dairy’s position in Pennsylvania schools is waning. A good example is the removal of the choice of whole milk from schools in 2010 when the federal government tied school lunches more closely to USDA’s flawed Dietary Guidelines.

The most local dairy product available to any school is whole milk. Instead, today, with only fat-free and 1% low-fat milks permitted in schools, and a complex set of rules for meals to mandatorily conform to Dietary Guidelines, large foodservice companies – including PepsiCo – promise ‘guaranteed compliant’ meals and beverages, and schools are moving toward this type of sourcing.

In fact, the beverages students purchase after discarding fat-free and 1% low-fat milk are anything but local or nutritious, but they meet USDA government guidelines because they contain no fat and are formulated with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweetener combinations to meet calorie thresholds.

According to the Pa. Department of Agriculture, there were 57 applicants for this second round of Farm to School grants. The Farm to School grants were created under the 2019 PA Farm Bill and were funded again in 2020 and proposed for re-funding in the Governor’s 2021-22 budget.

When asked about grant applications that were denied, Powers replied: “Applicants not awarded grants did not meet the criteria or submitted incomplete applications. None of those applications included a dairy element.”

Our questions to the Center for Dairy Excellence, asking if they were aware of any Farm to School grants applications that involved curricula to highlight dairy or connect schools with local dairy, were not immediately answered; however, the Pa. Department of Agriculture in its response was quick to point out its other programs for dairy, as follows:

“The PA Dairy Investment Program in 2019 and Dairy Indemnity Program in 2020 are examples of state funding that has been available exclusively for dairy producers,” writes Powers. “In addition, the PA Farm Bill and Ag research grants include research dollars devoted to developing healthy, economical feed and bedding and controlling disease; conservation dollars to help improve soil and water quality and ensure future productivity; an Agricultural Business Development Center to help connect farmers with funding, grant resources, transition planning and a host of other support that benefits all Pennsylvania producers, including dairy.”

Powers also mentioned “Preferential tax programs like Clean & Green, REAP, Beginning Farmer Tax Credits, and a number of grants from other departments, including the departments of Environmental Protection and Community & Economic Development are available to dairy farmers” and reminds dairy producers seeking financial and planning resources from the state and private partners to “contact the PA Agricultural Business Development Center or the Center for Dairy Excellence, another state-funded entity created specifically to support the needs of PA dairy farmers.”

In a nutshell, the Department of Agriculture views dairy products in schools as already being local and is focusing Farm to School grants on getting other local products, especially produce, into schools. The Department was quick to identify a handful of the 39 Farm to School grants that will include a dairy farm field trip component. One grant the Department highlighted includes experiential learning by visiting a dairy farm and then visiting a plant-based alternative dairy replacement processing facility. And, the Department believes it is providing considerable financial and resource help to dairy farmers to improve their sustainability and to diversify or “transition.”

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PA Ag Secretary Redding sidesteps school milk question, cites other priorities

Pa. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding sidestepped questions about school milk during State Senate budget hearings. He listed other priorities of advocacy in the “federal conversation” and cited the need for new processing for Pennsylvania’s dairy future. Screenshot photo of hearing on zoom

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 23, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. – During the Pennsylvania Senate budget hearings in April, in a question-and-answer exchange with Senator David Argall, representing Berks and Schuylkill counties, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding talked about advocating for trade agreements, pricing policies, dairy investment and nutrition in “the federal conversation.”

However, on the question of advocating to legalize whole milk choice in schools? Asked twice. Not answered.

In fact, the Secretary’s entire agriculture budget testimony included just one small paragraph about dairy — something Sen. Argall picked up on and questioned. He asked Redding what portion of overall Pennsylvania agriculture is represented by dairy, to which the Secretary replied “about 37%.”

When pushed on what the department is doing, Redding said: “I can tell you dairy is about 37% of my conversations — even though the testimony doesn’t reflect that.”

“We have made real progress in dairy and have been part of that conversation, but there is still more to do for dairy to remain viable and remain at 37%,” said Redding, citing the work of the Dairy Futures Commission, but few details.

Asked to look five to 10 years down the road, the Secretary said the dairy industry has had some “really incredible years in the last five and some incredibly bad years in the last five. It is always going to be sustainable,” he said, “but the question is: Are we going to have those good years to make up for the bad years?”

(It has been seven years since a truly good year was experienced by dairy producers.)

The Secretary pinned the hopes of the future for dairy in Pennsylvania on “getting new processing.” 

Redding stated: “We can compete on the farm. We can compete as a state. But we have to compete at the marketplace too. I remain encouraged by what we’re doing, but we have to keep pressing to make sure we get the right state and federal policies.”

However, there is one federal policy at the core of fluid milk marketing that the Secretary evaded.

Sen. Argall pointed out the 2010 federal policy that removed whole milk from schools.

“Do you see a solution to that issue, and is that really a big part of the overall problem?” the Senator asked.

“I think it is certainly a contributor, and I hear it all the time about whole milk. But what I try to encourage the dairy industry is to look at where total dairy consumption is — the 1%, the 2%, the whole milk — and can you get more cheese, get more yogurt in, can you get more dairy products into that school diet,” Redding replied.

“I think that’s probably what we have to keep our eye on,” he continued. “It’s going to take all of that product mix for us to turn this trend around of just dairy consumption generally. It’s a complicated equation. All of us need to keep pressing on the Congress to do more, to keep our trade agreements in place, and I can tell you… we’ve had some difficult (trade) steps for the last several years.”

(The last several years saw record volumes of exports. Tom Vilsack, current U.S. Ag Secretary and former U.S. Dairy Export Council president wrote in a blog post that 2018 was “a banner year for dairy exporters.” We all recall what 2018 was like for dairy farmers.)

Sec. Redding also referenced the negative PPDs on milk checks as an issue. He stated that, “The price difference between Class III and IV has cost Pennsylvania dearly, so that’s also part of the federal conversation.”

Sen. Argall picked up on the Secretary’s mention of ‘federal conversation,’ asking a second time about whole milk in schools.

“Are you working with anyone across the country to try to repeal that portion of the (federal) act that has greatly reduced the number of students (allowed) to drink whole milk in the schools?” the Senator asked.

“We have not been engaged in repeal. We have been engaged in what I mentioned earlier, about making sure that the Dietary Guidelines include dairy, and they do continue the three a day,” said Redding. “We have continued to advocate for continued investment in dairy, making sure that we do the trade (exports), making sure we have the pricing pieces.”

The Secretary went on to say; “We are advocating at a lot of different levels for dairy on the nutrition side and also the dairy investment side.”

In regard to new processing, after years of discussion, two dairy bills were passed by the House in the 2019-20 session, only to die in the Senate Ag Committee. One was a dairy keystone opportunity zones bill and the other was a bill dealing with transparency and distribution of state-mandated over-order premiums. Both bills, sponsored by Rep. John Lawrence had passed unanimously or nearly unanimously in the House last session.

During a meeting last week of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, a committee member, noted a dairy redevelopment project in his county that looked to be a sure thing, only to be dropped.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has dropped from fifth to seventh, and now eighth in the nation in dairy production.

“This has gone on as the dairy industry consolidates,” said Mike Eby, a Lancaster County farmer, member of the grassroots committee, chairman of National Dairy Producers Organization and executive director of Organization for Competitive Markets.

“The Secretary mentions the momentum we have from fluid milk consumption rising recently. Increased sales of whole milk are a key to that increase. Legalizing whole milk choice in schools makes sense for children and dairy farmers,” Eby explained.

“Everything is political in this. Why do we not have whole milk in schools? People have no clue how important this is for dairy farmers. We have already lost a generation of milk drinkers,” notes Dale Hoffman, a Potter County dairy producer and member of the grassroots committee having worked on this issue for several years. 

Even the Pennsylvania Dairy Futures Commission, which was referenced by Sec. Redding in his comment about “making progress,” addressed the issue of whole milk in schools. 

The Commission was established by the state assembly in 2019 and issued its lengthy report in Aug. 2020 on a broad range of dairy issues. In one area of the report, the Commission made recommendations to improve the school milk experience, specifically stating: “Federal school milk program standards should allow the flexibility to offer a choice in flavored and unflavored milk, including whole milk.”

While several key state lawmakers report they are looking for an opening to do something on this at the state level, Secretary Redding evades the question, even changing the subject when asked about whether he is advocating for this in the federal conversation.

Instead, the Secretary responded by saying the Department advocates in the federal conversation for trade agreements, pricing pieces, and on the nutrition side being satisfied to have the ‘3-a-day’ in the school diet.

Here are a few questions Pennsylvania dairy producers may want to ask Pa. Ag Secretary Redding, by contacting the Pa. Department of Agriculture at 717-787-4737.

— Why does the Secretary advocate for ‘trade’ while completely sidestepping the question about advocating for whole milk choice in schools?

— Does the Secretary support Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson’s bill H.R. 1861 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act to legalize whole milk choice in schools?

— Will the Dept. of Agriculture advocate for the health of children and the Commonwealth’s ag community by advocating for the bipartisan efforts to bring the choice of whole milk back to schools?

— In the budget hearing, Sec. Redding again identified the need for more processing in Pennsylvania. With properties up for redevelopment over the past few years in the heart of dairy areas, what is being done to encourage redevelopment projects for dairy processing?

— Given at least one such project was underway and then abandoned, what are the influences and obstacles?

The effort to legalize the choice of whole milk in schools is a federal and state issue. Public awareness has been increased over the past two years through the joint efforts of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, including a petition that is being revitalized as the U.S. Congress and State Assembly begin a new legislative session. Graphic by Sherry Bunting