Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
EAST EARL, Pa. – Pennsylvania State Representative John Lawrence (R-13th) has been working on behalf of dairy farmers in what has
seemed like the wilderness in the past decade — representing Chester County and part of Lancaster County. He’s glad to see, in recent years, more of his colleagues are recognizing the situation.
“Pennsylvania dairy farmers are struggling, and we have a decision to make if we want to drink milk produced on Pennsylvania farms,” he said, speaking to farmers attending the customer appreciation dairy conference and luncheon of Sensenig’s Feed Mill. The event drew around 300 to Shady Maple in eastern Lancaster County in early March.
Lawrence has a slate of three bills in the State House — HB 223 would provide tax incentives for dairy processing in the Commonwealth; HB 224 would provide authority to the Pa. Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) to make changes to account for where all of the state-mandated over-order premium goes, which is paid by Pennsylvania consumers on every gallon of milk they buy; and HB 2397 is the new bill he is introducing to be intentional about allowing whole milk in Pennsylvania schools.
The latter is numbered 2397 for a reason, he said. The last two digits of the bill number, 97, coincide with the popular and progressive grassroots 97 Milk education effort, sharing the benefits and facts about whole milk and dairy, virtually 97% fat free.
“Whole milk was outlawed 10 years ago by the federal government. This is towards the top of what I would call the ‘ludicrous list,’” Lawrence said.
Tired of waiting for the federal government to act to correct this situation for schoolchildren and for farmers, Lawrence says the idea for how to approach it at the state level came to him two months ago. It just occurred to him as he thought about the dilemma.
In fact, he thanks God for that inspiration — the inspiration to approach the bill from the state’s rights aspect of the U.S. Constitution.
“We have jurisdiction on this,” Lawrence explained.
When milk produced on Pennsylvania farms and processed in a Pennsylvania plant is purchased by a Pennsylvania school with Pennsylvania or local funds, then the federal government has no jurisdiction over what can be offered to students.
That’s the gist of it.
The federal government lays claim to interstate commerce, but if a school’s milk is supplied strictly through intrastate commerce (within-state commerce), then the milk offered to students comes under state jurisdiction, and the state can allow whole milk, according to Lawrence.
He said the bill is enjoying broad bipartisan support in the House and will be introduced officially very soon.
“We have a robust dairy industry in our Commonwealth. Pennsylvania milk delivered to Pennsylvania plants and offered for sale to Pennsylvania students paid for by state or local funds is intrastate commerce. Who regulates that? We do. The state does. So, the federal government has no say,” Lawrence related.
Under those conditions, “if a school wants to buy Pennsylvania whole milk, then they would have every right to do that and offer it to students,” Lawrence said. “If the federal government would try to withhold other funding from those schools because of it, then we go after them.”
Lawrence is counting on broad support in the State Assembly for the measure. By the amount of feedback he is getting from colleagues, organizations, schools and others, he believes it will pass.
“It’s time to take a stand for our dairy farmers,” he said. “We have lost a generation of milk drinkers getting skim milk and throwing it in the trash.” This bill — HB 2397 — would give Pennsylvania schools the opportunity to offer whole milk and it would support Pennsylvania’s dairy farms and processors at the same time.
As for HB 224 dealing with the PMMB over-order premium, Lawrence said it addresses transparency and accountability.
“Right now, every gallon of milk sold in Pennsylvania is assessed the over-order premium,” he said. “Pennsylvania consumers are paying this in the price of their milk. That money should all be coming back to you, the Pennsylvania farmers. This bill would account for that.”
He noted that this bill is also finding broad bipartisan support.
HB 223 is the third bill, and straightforward. Lawrence patterned it off the Keystone Opportunity Zones, using the tax credit idea for attracting new businesses and jobs to the Commonwealth.
“In this case it’s focused on dairy,” he said.
This bill would make those tax credits available to new processing on a large or small scale, including expansion of existing facilities and even on-farm processing.
The stipulation is the entity receiving the tax credits must source 75% of their milk supply to Pennsylvania farms.
“This way we create markets for dairy farms in the Commonwealth. We have to keep our farmers alive because we also have to eat,” Lawrence stated matter-of-factly. “We have to stop taking it for granted.
“We have a choice to make about where we will lay our priorities. We have to get real. I want to drink fresh Pennsylvania milk,” he said. “It’s long past time to stand up for our Pennsylvania dairy farmers who are producing it.” -30-
Dairy farmers hear ‘whole’ story: The 97 Milk effort and Pa. State Rep. Lawrence’s new bill
By Sherry Bunting, published in Farmshine, Feb. 25, 2022
BERRYSBURG, Pa. — A bill will soon be introduced in the Pennsylvania State House that would allow Pennsylvania schools to offer the choice of whole milk. The author of the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act is Rep. John Lawrence. He circulated a cosponsors letter a few weeks ago.
On Monday, Feb. 21, Lawrence talked about House Bill 2397 at an annual dairy day here at the Berrysburg Community Center in Dauphin County, Pa. The event, attended by over 100 producers and 30 vendors, was hosted by Great Creatures Veterinary Service as a customer appreciation luncheon and workshop.
Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman — initiator of the ‘Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free Baleboards’ — was invited by veterinarian Dr. Joy Lenker to talk about the bale art and the progress of the whole milk education movement.
Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee, joined Troutman during his presentation, and they introduced Rep. Lawrence to share the good news about the Pennsylvania whole milk bill.
Lawrence, who represents parts of Lancaster and Chester counties, said he expects to officially introduce the bill with prime cosponsor Clint Owlett, representing Tioga County, when the Pennsylvania General Assembly returns to session in Harrisburg in a few weeks.
During a recent Farmshine phone interview, Lawrence confirmed that his cosponsor memo generated “good support” among colleagues and supportive responses from Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, several other farm organizations, some schools, and most importantly, from dairy farmers, who tell him they are “very grateful.”
Lawrence is concerned about dairy farmers across the state. He has been advocating for them for many years in the General Assembly. He has proposed several bills in the past on other issues related to the PMMB, over order premium distribution, and milk check transparency. Some that passed the House, did not get considered by the Senate before expiring.
“We have had some wins and some setbacks over the years,” said Lawrence. “But this whole milk bill is something I believe will get done. I think there is a lot of support for it and a lot of truth to what the farmers say — that they are losing a whole generation of milk drinkers. There are schools in Pennsylvania that want to provide this choice of whole milk for the kids.”
Lawrence said the bill is structured to deal with this as a state-level issue.
“We want the federal government to address this, to end their prohibition of whole milk in schools, but it has been quite a while now, and they are not addressing it… So we are going to see if we can address it for Pennsylvania,” he affirmed, adding that more details about the bill will be forthcoming when it is formally introduced.
In his cosponsor letter, Lawrence wrote that “due to federal regulations enacted under the Obama Administration, whole (3.25 %) and reduced fat (2%) milk are not served in schools today. Speak with any school cafeteria worker, and they will tell you students are not fans of skim milk. Speak with any dairy farmer in Pennsylvania, and they will tell you that this ill-fated federal directive of removing whole milk from schools is a top concern.”
He also cited studies about the amount of milk wasted at school.
In fact, the federal government did a before-and-after study comparing plate waste in 2011 vs. 2013 to gauge their 2012 ‘nutrition standards’ that reduced the allowable fat content in milk to fat-free or 1%, even for a la carte competing beverage options. This early USDA study showed an immediate 24% reduction in students selecting milk at school and a 22% increase in discarded milk among students who were served the required skimmed milks.
Subsequent studies show the situation has only worsened over the past decade.
Lawrence’s cosponsor letter explains the mechanics of the state’s interest under the tenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The memo states: “In the near future, we will introduce the Whole Milk in Pennsylvania Schools Act. This legislation will ensure Pennsylvania students, at Pennsylvania schools, have the option to consume Pennsylvania whole and two percent reduced fat milk paid for with Pennsylvania tax dollars.”
Morrissey said this is welcome news for dairy farmers and the state’s dairy industry, not to mention for the schoolchildren.
He and Troutman were glad to be able to share the good news at the dairy day in Berrysburg.
Troutman showed the Channel 39 public television news video that aired two years ago featuring Troutman and Jackie Behr, marketing manager for the 97 Milk effort, as they explained how the movement got started and what was being accomplished at the start.
He updated attendees to where things are today as 97 Milk celebrated the start of its fourth year this month.
“There is so much to say, but we kept it light,” said Troutman in a phone interview. “I told them about the Pennsylvania Senate hearing back in June, how our committee testified about bringing back the choice of whole milk in schools. Senator Scavello (representing Monroe and Northampton counties) really liked the information on the 6 x 6 card Jackie Behr put together, telling what whole milk provides. I gave him one before the hearing, and he read it two times to be sure it was in the record.”
Troutman confessed he had no idea his painted round bale would lead to a milk education effort with a website, 97milk.com bringing increasing numbers of daily traffic, and social media platforms with monthly average reach of over 300,000 people, as well as some individual posts showing data reaching one million people. He thanks Behr and the 97 Milk board for that, and he thanks Farmshine for telling the story, so other farmers could get involved and bring their ideas.
“It is a team effort,” Troutman confirmed. This teamwork is helping get more cosponsors for the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in Washington. The bipartisan bill was introduced in March 2021 by Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) and Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY). It currently stands at 88 cosponsors from 31 states.
The teamwork also led to a 30,000-signature petition, multiple comment drives in USDA rulemaking, speaking engagements with ag and non-ag service groups, and a Pennsylvania school trial demonstrating a 52% increase in students selecting milk and a 95% reduction in discarded milk when students had the option of whole milk, with post-trial surveys showing whole milk was preferred 3 to 1 over low-fat 1% milk.
“I am a positive person, but after that Pa. Milk Marketing Board listening session in Lebanon three years ago, seeing we didn’t get anywhere on some things, I went home feeling like I lost my best cow. That’s the best I can describe it. I thought that listening session was going to break things open, but it didn’t,” Troutman told fellow farmers Monday. “I thought I had to do something, anything, so I painted a bale, and yes, well, this is what happened.”
He observed that one of the biggest things is how this movement is energizing dairy farmers, and agribusiness partners are joining in. There’s a renewed purpose.
“This opened people’s eyes. We finally have a way to promote whole milk, and that is spreading to other states, and we even hear from people in other countries,” Troutman said.
“It’s positive news. We need positive news, and the consumers, they want positive news too. They want to know about milk. We didn’t have a way to promote whole milk… until now. We lost a generation of milk drinkers, and we have to make up for that,” said Troutman. “I saw ADANE just did a webinar on whole fat dairy and mentioned the New Jersey Academy of Pediatrics and Nutrition. I didn’t get to watch it, but this is icing on the cake. We have to keep this going because we are finally starting to get somewhere, in the right direction.”
By Sherry Bunting, Updated (above) since published in Farmshine, Feb. 11, 2022
WASHINGTON — USDA announced ‘transitional’ nutrition standards on Friday, Feb. 4 that put low-fat 1% flavored milk back on the menu next school year, without the cumbersome waiver process. The announcement also delays the planned sodium reductions, helping the cheese side of school lunches.
National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) came out with hearty applause for the news, thanking Congressmen G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), author of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), author of the School Milk Nutrition Act, for their leadership on this issue through the years, using words that treat this USDA announcement as though it’s a done-deal, and all is good to go.
But let’s hold our horses and examine the USDA announcement — described clearly as “transitional” based on schools “needing more time to adjust” post-pandemic.
USDA stated that future nutrition standards will be proposed in the fall of 2022 as part of the administration’s “Build Back Better with School Meals, input will be gathered, and those will be the standards that go into place beginning with the 2024-25 school year.
USDA also made it clear that these future long-term standards “will line up with the Dietary Guidelines” and input from schools and industry will be sought in “how to gradually implement them.”
In 2010, the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of Congress tied government food and nutrition programs, like school lunch, to the Dietary Guidelines. By 2012, under President Obama’s USDA — with Tom Vilsack at the helm then as now — had banned whole milk as an a la carte offering in the ‘Smart Snacks’ rules. At the same time, the Department required flavored milk to only be offered if it was fat-free and required unflavored milk to be either fat-free or low-fat 1%.
Milk sales plummeted and waste increased.
Then, the Trump-USDA in 2018, under Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, “rolled back” some of the 2012 USDA standards, delaying the sodium rules and allowing low-fat 1% flavored milk to be offered through a waiver system at the state level. Some states, like Pennsylvania, made blanket waivers available, and many schools began offering low-fat 1% flavored milk over the next few years.
Then, a lawsuit took the Trump-era USDA to court for the rollbacks. The court ruled that the Trump-USDA did not use a proper public comment process before doing the rollbacks. So, beginning with the 2021-22 school year, the low-fat 1% flavored milk was again bumped out of school menus — except where waivers were sometimes granted for pandemic-related supply disruptions as justification for serving a higher fat milk.
Over the past year, USDA Food Nutrition Services has received comments about how to gradually implement nutrition standards to line up with the Dietary Guidelines on sodium, whole grains, and milkfat. Friday’s announcement on ‘transitional standards’ was accompanied by a detailed and lengthy rule that will be implemented July 1, 2022.
“USDA is giving schools time to transition from current, pandemic operations, toward more nutritious meals. In 2022, USDA will continue to prioritize supporting schools as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic and related operational issues,” the announcement said, adding that USDA “is also planning for the future by engaging with school meal stakeholders to establish long-term nutrition standards beginning in school year 2024-2025 that will be achievable.”
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack was quoted in the announcement blaming the pandemic disruptions of the past two years for making schools “unprepared to fully meet those standards at this time” for milk, whole grains and sodium.
“These transitional standards are step one of a longer-term strategy to lean into the school meal programs as a crucial part of improving child health,” said Vilsack.
“Over the coming months and years, USDA will work closely with its school meal partners to develop the next iteration of nutrition requirements. We’ve got to find the right balance between standards that give our kids the best chance at a healthy future based on the latest nutrition science, and ensuring those standards are practical, built to last, and work for everyone,” Vilsack added.
The purpose of the “transitional” standards, according to the USDA announcement, is to “give schools clarity for the coming school years, allowing them to gradually transition from the extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic to normal program operations and meal standards that are consistent with the latest nutrition science, as required by law.”
Specifically, the transitional standards beginning with the 2022-23 school year are as follows:
1) Milk: Schools and childcare providers serving participants ages six and older may offer flavored low-fat (1%) milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk;
2) Whole Grains: At least 80% of the grains served in school lunch and breakfast each week must be whole grain-rich; and
3) Sodium:The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level in SY 2022-2023. For school lunch only, there will be a 10% decrease in the limit in SY 2023-2024. (This affects school cheese).
The expressed linkage of long-term USDA nutrition standards to the anti-fat 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines was mentioned throughout the USDA announcement, giving an indication of where the school milk standards are headed, long-term.
That is, unless Congress acts to remove all doubt and make fuller fat milk — whole milk — a legal option for schools in the future.
For a true solution for the long-term, Congressional leadership is needed on the school milk issue.
By Sherry Bunting, previously published in Farmshine April 2021
EPHRATA, Pa. – “This organization is getting it done,” said U.S. Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa.-15th). Thompson is the Republican leader of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and he gave the efforts of 97 Milk LLC and the Grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee two thumbs-up. Rep.
Thompson was a special guest addressing the group of mostly dairy farmers attending the 97 Milk reorganizational meeting at Mt. Airy Fire Hall near Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021.
The groups’ efforts were formed in early 2019, after Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman painted his first round bale with the words: “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free”.
At the 97milk.com and facebook page @97milk, are the words: “We believe… in supporting local dairy farmers. We believe we can make a difference by sharing facts, benefits, and the good taste of whole milk so consumers can make informed decisions.”
According to Congressman Thompson, the battle to improve milk demand and to legalize whole milk choice in schools has two fronts – legislative policy and milk messaging.
“97 Milk is leading the way in the nation on messaging. Going from bales and beyond, what you have done is just incredible,” the Congressman said. “Keep doing what you are doing with the well-designed combination of influencing, marketing and providing factual information.”
In fact, Rep. Thompson took home and now proudly displays a “Drink Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard sign in his front yard.
Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee chairman Bernie Morrissey has been printing and distributing hundreds of these yard signs with the donations of area agribusinesses, other organizations and individuals.
Rep. Thompson represents 24% of Pennsylvania’s land mass across 14 counties. Even before becoming the lead Republican in the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, dairy has always been a key farm focus for him, and bringing the choice of whole milk back to schools a key issue. As Ag Committee Ranking Member, he now also represents all of agriculture with responsiveness across the nation.
He reported that “progress is being made. But we are starting in the hole, not from a neutral position. We have lost a generation of milk drinkers since whole milk was demonized and removed from schools in 2010.”
His bill, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, could change that. H.R. 1861 is a bipartisan bill that has been reintroduced in this 2021-22 session of Congress with cosponsor Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Democrat from New York. The bill currently has 24 cosponsors.
In fact, among those attending the meeting in Pennsylvania was a contingent of folks from upstate New York looking to start a 97 Milk chapter there.
Also in attendance was David Lapp of Blessings of Hope. He confirmed that their partnership with 97 Milk was “a big success,” raising over $70,524 of which $16,000 remains for processing and buying milk. So far, those funds processed or purchased 45,000 gallons of whole milk for those in need, and over 20,000 packaged gallons were additionally donated during the pandemic.
Blessings of Hope was also involved in the Farmers to Families Food Box program through USDA, distributing a million gallons since May, of which Lapp said, 90% was whole milk!
GN Hursh, a Lancaster County dairy farmer and 97 Milk chairman, thanked everyone for doing their part to educate and promote whole milk. Referring to Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman as “the seed” of the 97 Milk movement painting the first round bales with Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free, he asked Troutman to introduce the Congressman during the meeting — an honor Troutman put in the way only he can: “I never thought I would be introducing the Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee in ‘downtown’ Mt. Airy.”
That got a laugh from the group sitting in the rural town fire hall of northern Lancaster County.
The humble and persistent work of 97 Milk and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee took root in southeast Pennsylvania, but is also being joined-in by dairy producers and supporters across the state and nation, noticed by dignitaries and officials in policy and legislative arenas and reaching every-day families and consumers across the nation and around the world.
The needle is being moved.
Marketing manager Jackie Behr said the key is to keep bringing ideas forward for the website, social media and events. She took the attendees through 97 Milk’s digital presence step by step and showed how the goal is to keep things fresh and keep bringing information and facts to the eyes of the growing traffic coming to the website.
Behr showed how the website and social media together give facts about whole milk, fun activities, recipes, and a personal connection of consumers to farmers.
“We always want to have new facts and something fun,” said Behr. “We rely on you to send us news articles and ideas that we can put on the website and post. We also rely on farmers to send in photos and thoughts and stories to keep it fresh.”
She reminded everyone that the website has a download section to download and print things, as well as a store to buy banners, t-shirts, hats and more. The store also has new items coming in to keep it fresh.
The Dairy Question Desk has been popular. “We want to be transparent and we want people asking questions,” said Behr.
While website visits are up, store purchases of promotional items and donations to 97 Milk are down. The 97 Milk board, including Behr, and others who assist at times with the social media work, as well as everyone doing events and other campaigns, are volunteers.
In the past 28 days, alone, the website had 1044 users and 2054 page views – 77% of them are new users. Businesses that have mentioned 97 Milk on their websites have driven traffic to 97milk.com as well.
This is something Behr wants more agribusinesses to consider. It’s an easy way to support the movement, just by putting a link to 97milk.com on a business website to support dairy farmers and milk education. This improves searchability for 97milk.com when people look for information about milk.
The top referral sites over the past year were Farmshine, FM Browns, Lotus Web Designs, R&J Dairy Consulting, Sauder Brothers, and Sensenig’s Feed Mill.
Social media data show that every age group is represented in the traffic, and followers are 60% women, 40% men, with over 400,000 people reached in the past 28 days. Some months the million-mark has been reached!
“This is all free advertising,” said Behr about the posts done six days a week. She said 97 Milk has not paid to “boost” any social media posts.
A good post about something people are interested in and don’t know about, attracts that wider reach, according to Behr.
“We are making connections and keeping the message positive,” she said. “People are responding. Since the pandemic, we see opportunity in expanding our reach because people want to support local farms and small businesses. We are giving them the simple facts that they don’t know and aren’t getting anywhere els.”
It was reported during the meeting that whole milk sales nationwide were up 2.6% in 2020 and up 1% in 2019. Flavored whole milk was up over 8% in 2019 and off by 1% in 2020, perhaps as a function of offerings more than demand. It’s important to note that whole milk sales are the largest volume category and these are USDA volume statistics, and 2% reduced-fat milk is the second largest volume category.
On a value basis, other reports put the whole milk increase at more than 5% over two years. In addition 2% milk sales have gained, but whole milk is still number one for 2019 and 2020. In the Northeast Milk Marketing Area, 2% milk sales grew by 7%, while whole milk grew 2.6%.
In the heart of the area in Pennsylvania where the 97 Milk movement started, at least two large supermarket chains have confirmed a 10 to 14% increase in whole milk sales in 2020. This shows the potential a wider reach can have as the 97 Milk movement grows.
These gains in whole and 2% milk sales volume have helped stabilize the overall fluid milk volume decline that was steepest from 2010 through 2019, after the choice of whole milk was prohibited in schools.
While talking about his Whole Milk for Health Kids Act legislation, Thompson referenced this concern also, saying that the removal of whole milk from schools resulted in losing a whole generation of milk drinkers, and some of that generation are or will soon be raising the next generation.
Both he and Behr mentioned “ripple effects.” This is an opportunity where whole milk education can impact whether the ripple effect is positive or negative for farmers and families.
When asked about current Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s position on getting whole milk back in schools after Vilsack was Secretary when it was removed, Thompson explained that Congress should take most of that blame. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 when Speaker Pelosi was Speaker of the House. He said Michelle Obama had little to do with this move. He also noted that he has had discussions with Secretary Vilsack before he was confirmed by the Senate.
“The Secretary knows my priorities,” said Thompson. During his time bringing news from Washington, he touched on milk identity labeling, Federal Milk Marketing Order pricing, and other dairy-related policy, but focused on the issues around legalizing whole milk choice in schools.
He also explained that any legislation on school nutrition must come through the Education and Labor Committee.
“I wish school nutrition legislation was in our Ag Committee jurisdiction. We would have fixed it by now. That’s something we can look into,” said Thompson, blaming bad science and those on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) Committee with an agenda. He talked about working toward Congress having a way to approve DGAs, and his desire for hearings on the DGA process.
“To get things done and make them last, we have to work on both sides of the aisle,” the Congressman said, noting how tight the votes are between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Already, the list of cosponsors this session show interest among members of the Education and Labor committee.
Thompson also mentioned looking at other ways to legislatively approach the school beverage issue.
When asked what producers can do to help move the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act forward, Thompson said: “Keep doing what you are doing.”
In the business portion of the 97 Milk meeting April 6, chairman GN Hursh talked about how the group has navigated the pandemic to reach the public with the good news about whole milk.
Operated by volunteers and funded by donations and the 97milk.com store, 97 Milk accomplishes a lot with a little.
Treasurer Mahlon Stoltzfus reported income of $11,000 matching expenses of $11,000 and noted that donations have slowed even as progress in the group’s mission has increased.
Hursh asked producers to get involved. He noted that with all of the positive things happening, the key to keeping the momentum going is producer involvement.
Behr explained how important it is for dairy farmers to send in pictures and stories from their farms and ideas for social media posts.
For example, one idea that came from a farmer was to simply picture a red-cap gallon jug of whole milk and ask: “Reach for the red cap. Drink whole milk.” The post has been extremely popular and widely shared both times it was used.
During the meeting, board elections were conducted. Remaining as chairman is Hursh of Ephrata, with Stoltzfus of Bird In Hand remaining as treasurer. Outgoing secretary is Lois Beiler of Lititz, and incoming secretary is Chris Landis, Stevens. Outgoing campaign coordinator is Jordan Zimmerman of East Earl, and incoming campaign manager is Mark Leid, New Holland. Jackie Behr of R&J Dairy Consulting will remain on the board as marketing manager.
“This effort is not about just one person. It’s everyone doing their part,” said Hursh.
“There are three parts to this organization: website and social media; promotional materials and events; and the third is the key that could be missing,” he said, passing around a mirror: You.
EPHRATA, Pa. – Now that elections are over, and five more years of Dietary Guidelines were recently announced with the comment period concluded and thousands of comments disregarded — the Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition yard signs are getting a makeover.
The action word “Vote” on the campaign-style yard signs that began popping up last fall has been changed to “Drink”, but the message and reference to 97milk.com remain the same.
These are signs to make people aware of two things:
1) Whole milk is still not allowed as a school lunch choice under current federal rules, and
2) Whole milk is the best way to get Vitamin D and other immune boosting nutrition for children and elderly, whose diets are most controlled by the fat-free and low-fat rules of yet another round of 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines.
Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey has changed 300 available signs printed with the financial sponsorship of Morrissey Insurance of Ephrata and Troy, Pa.; Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland; and Wenger’s of Myerstown.
“Our main message is the same,” says Morrissey. “News reports increasingly mention vitamin D supporting the immune system in this time of coronavirus pandemic. Even national broadcasts bring on specialists citing research showing the vital role of vitamin D. The best way to get vitamin D is in whole milk, but our children are not permitted to choose whole milk at school. They can only choose fat-free and 1% low-fat milk, according to the federal government’s dietary rules.”
In fact, according to a recent health report aired on several major broadcasting networks, dozens of studies have identified the importance of vitamin D in relation to Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, the medical community identified vitamin D as a nutrient deficiency of concern among Americans.
A huge new study is underway to test causation between higher vitamin D levels and prevention of deaths due to Covid-19 after several smaller studies showed nine out of 10 deaths could have been prevented with adequate vitamin D levels.
Winter and spring are the seasons of concern with Covid-19, and it is the time when vitamin D deficiency is most prevalent, say health professionals in countless interviews.
Vitamin D is one of several fat-soluble vitamins in milk. Vitamin D occurs naturally in the milk fat at some level but is also fortified in milk — and has been for decades because of the longstanding concern about vitamin D deficiency and the importance of vitamin D in conjunction with calcium for strong bones and overall health.
A study at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto, Canada, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2017, showed children who drank whole milk had up to three times higher absorbed levels of vitamin D compared with children drinking 1% low-fat milk. This study also showed that children drinking whole milk were leaner. They had 40% less risk of becoming overweight than children drinking low-fat milk.
Another study there showed children drinking only non-cow’s milk plant and nut alternatives, which are also fortified with added vitamin D, were twice as likely to be deficient in vitamin D. In fact, the pediatrician researchers stated that, “Among children who drank non-cow’s milk, every additional cup of non-cow’s milk was associated with a five percent drop in vitamin D levels per month.”
“What we are doing with the yard signs and Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted hay bales and banners and the efforts of the 97 Milk education group with their website and social media is all working. The yard signs focus on the nutritional message for our children and elderly that the Dietary Guidelines ignore, which is the immune boosting nutrition of whole milk,” says Morrissey, also pointing out the benefits of whole milk for maintaining a healthy weight and stabilizing metabolism.
“This is a slow process to get things changed in Washington and Harrisburg, but we’re working on it,” he adds, praising the combined efforts of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk, as well as all the many people and agribusinesses supporting both grassroots efforts initiated by dairy farmers.
Morrissey said the 300 Drink Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition – 97milk.com yard signs are available in the vestibule at Morrissey Insurance at 890 North Reading Road, Ephrata, Pa. Signs are also available at Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland and Wenger’s of Myerstown during business hours.
“These yard signs are free because of the three businesses that paid for them – Morrissey, Sensenig’s and Wenger’s. Come and get them, but take only what you will place,” says Morrissey, wanting to be sure signs are put out for others to see, and learn and question and get involved.
Producers and other businesses wanting to sponsor the continued printing of more yard signs, or those with questions about how to participate from other areas, contact Bernie Morrissey from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. at 610.693.6471.
Find even more good news about whole milk and dairy foods at 97milk.com
Dairy category sales are up, Whole milk is the star, up 14.5%
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 18, 2020
SINKING SPRING, Pa. — “This is an easy message to sell, and sales of whole milk are way up,” said Eric White about the Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” grassroots milk education campaign.
White is director of marketing and communications for Redner’s Markets, headquartered in Reading, Pa. with 44 stores, 35 of them in central Pennsylvania, the balance in Maryland and Delaware.
He was not surprised by the grassroots marketing campaign for whole milk: The painted round bales started by Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman, the banners promoted by retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey, and the social media and website promotion by 97 Milk.
When Morrissey visited him some months ago, White was eager to join in.
The “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free stickers” are up on dairy cases at Redner’s Markets locations, White had them made with the signature red type on white background. Clover Farms Dairy, the milk bottler in Reading that supplies milk to all Redner’s stores, indicates they will be changing the case strips to promote whole milk too.
White is also putting up the “Whole Milk – School Lunch Choice – Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition” yard signs in the store above the dairy case and on the grounds as well.
Both the grassroots stickers and the signs include the 97milk.com website where shoppers can get more information and milk education. The Redner’s Dairy cases also include the Choose PA Dairy signs, featuring photos of local farms, and the chocolate milk refuel signage from the national and regional checkoff programs.
During an interview at the dairy case in the Redner’s Sinking Spring store this week, the impact was clear: Whole milk in the jug is very much the star of the show.
In fact, the Redner’s brand, bottled by Clover, has always been whole milk. Whole milk is the only milk that gets the Redner’s name. It has always been that way, says White.
He confirmed their whole milk sales have increased dramatically. Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic has had some impact, he said: “But when I look at January through March numbers, that is how it was tracking even before the pandemic.
“I pulled the numbers, and we have seen a 14.5% increase in whole milk sales, alone, which is tremendous,” White confirmed. “The consumer message has changed, and we see people coming back to whole milk, knowing that they don’t need to drink the lower fat milk. We give our own kids whole milk at home now. It’s better for isotonic replenishment.”
White also reported that sales for the entire dairy case are up.
“The whole dairy category is higher, with milk being the number one product selling from the dairy category, and whole milk the number one type of milk being sold,” he said.
White also sees how whole milk sales benefit local dairy farms. “There is a confluence in how these sales benefit local agriculture that we need to support more than ever. We are seeing the messages in the media. With digital and social media, the message spreads.”
“We want to thank Redner’s for being a leader,” said Morrissey. “They are pro-farmer, pro-education and pro-consumer. They are completely on the 97 Milk page of educating consumers about whole milk as immune boosting, like our sign says. Eric has been tremendous to work with. If every supermarket chain would start educating consumers about whole milk, we would see even more benefits for consumers and farmers. The secret is education, and Redner’s is the store that is out there in front of the pack, doing it.”
Eric White has been with Redner’s for 22 years. He notes that they have long partnered with Clover Farms Dairy for their milk. They feature Clover milk in all of their stores, along with other local name brands, and of course, the Redner’s brand — whole milk — is bottled by Clover.
“It’s not that hard to do this,” said White. “We are a local family-owned company, and supporting this message brings it full circle back to the local dairy farms that are the backbone.
“We can underestimate why we are in business, and it is only because of the farms producing the food,” he observed. “Dairy and agriculture are the backbone of everything here in central Pennsylvania. A lot of businesses are here because of dairy. We are here selling food and feeding people because of the farms.”
White notes that as Redner’s expands, they are also expanding the reach of the farms shipping to Clover. More distant store locations also feature brands local to those sites as well. In fact, it is Redner’s practice to work with local farms on in-season vegetables and fruits as well as year-round products like yogurt.
Morrissey agrees, he notes that the Morrissey Insurance business he founded in the 1980s is in multiple states and appreciates grocers with stores in multiple states supporting their local and regional farms. He stresses that one of the best ways to do that is to educate consumers about whole milk.
When Troutman started painting round bales with the “Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free” message in December 2018, he said he never thought it would go so far.
“This is a dream come true to know all that has happened in the past two years — from the stores to the signs to the website and social media — and how the message has gone to other states and around the world,” said Troutman.
He added that, “When people work with you and work together, that’s the key.”
Troutman recalled a Pa. Milk Marketing Board listening session in Lebanon in December 2018. “I went home frustrated,” he reflected. “I looked around at what I had, and thought, I’ll paint a round bale with the message and put it out.”
The rest, as they say, is history — and it’s a history still in the making.
Morrissey recalls the first time he stopped in at Redner’s main office. “I didn’t know Eric at the time, and I didn’t have an appointment. He saw the banner I brought with me and was eager to talk with me.”
White had seen the message on round bales popping up around the area, and he was seeing the impact on Redner’s whole milk sales.
“The 97 Milk message was not much of a revelation to me because I always knew it. I drank whole milk growing up and through college. But my wife was convinced on fat-free. Now that we know drinking whole milk does not condemn us to a life of Lipitor — especially for our kids — she is buying whole milk for our family,” he says, adding that even their pediatrician recommended whole milk.
White points out that in today’s age of marketing and new products (not to mention government edicts for schools), there are a lot of opportunities for people to get off track in healthy eating — especially for children.
Morrissey, Troutman and White all agree that the beauty of the 97 Milk effort is how it has spread, and the beauty of social media is when the truth gets out, it spreads fast.
While not present for the interview, Gn Hursh, president of 97 Milk LLC, added his voice of appreciation for Redner’s. “Milk education is a win-win for everyone involved. The biggest winner is the consumer. Thanks to Redner’s for being part of the milk education team,” said Hursh.
“Without Redner’s, without Eric, we could not accomplish this,” added Morrissey. “Redner’s is the leader in educating the public and being very transparent about why whole milk sales are good for consumers and for farmers.”
The importance of whole milk to consumers is evident. During the height of the pandemic last spring, White said consumers showed how much it is a staple they rely on. Even during our interview Tuesday, Dec. 15, with the forecast calling for a record December snowstorm in the area for the next day, the dairy case was very busy with shoppers and constant re-stocking of milk, especially re-stocking the shelves with Redner’s Farm Fresh Vitamin D whole milk – in demand!
TITUSVILLE, Pa. – Whole Milk Gallon Challenge? It’s not a milk-chugging contest. It’s a way to bless the community, support local farms, educate the public, involve the school district, and get people talking about the choice of whole milk for healthy kids, healthy families, healthy communities.
Jake and Casey Jones of Titusville, Pennsylvania held their first Whole Milk 500 Gallon Challenge at the local middle school last Friday, May 1. They purchased 500 gallons of whole milk from a local bottler and 500 educational handouts through 97 Milk and worked with the Titusville Area School District to set up a drive-through in a parking lot adjacent to where families pick up school meals on Fridays.
The response was overwhelming and the gratitude from the community, humbling.
It all began when the CARES Act passed by Congress resulted in COVID-19 ‘stimulus’ payments to Americans last month. Jake, a territory manager for Mycogen, was still working full time in agriculture and had not been asked to take a pay cut. As the ‘stimulus’ credit showed up in their bank account, they were seeing farms forced to dump milk.
They decided to use the ‘stimulus’ funds to do something that would have an impact on their community and local dairy farms.
Both Jake’s and Casey’s parents have dairy farms, and they are involved in Jake’s parents’ farm. They saw the level of losses, revenue down 30% in a month and down potentially 60% by June. They had previously contacted Farmshine about the whole milk choice in schools petition and they were seeing schools provide meals during COVID-19 closures.
At first, they thought they could donate whole milk for the school to give out with meals. However, the USDA waivers for that were only in force for the month of April, and the process was complicated. Schools had to prove the fat-free or 1% milk was not available.
“We were frustrated — always hearing reasons why you can’t do this or that, when it comes to milk. We were tired of seeing and accepting roadblocks,” Jake related in a Farmshine phone interview this week. “We decided to find a way to do what we could to impact the situation. We feel incredibly blessed, and this felt like the right thing to do — putting the ‘stimulus’ money to something bigger to hand out a gallon of whole milk separately, but in conjunction with the school lunch system.”
Now they are hoping to inspire others to keep do the same.
Jake and Casey Jones (left), along with (l-r) student volunteer Joey Banner, Titusville Area School District superintendent Stephanie Keebler, school maintenance manager Garret Rose (front), and Ralph Kerr (not pictured) from Titusville Dairy helped make the Whole Milk Gallon Challenge successful.
In April, one of the first contacts they made was to the Titusville Area School District superintendent Dr. Stephanie Keebler. “We told her our idea, and she immediately jumped on board as one of our biggest supporters,” the couple confirmed.
“Jake reached out to me by email, and it was just amazing, very generous,” said Keebler in a phone interview. “They worked collaboratively with their church (Pleasantville Presbyterian) and the milk board and with our local Titusville Dairy and the manager Ralph Kerr to acquire the milk.”
Keebler coordinated things on the school end to make sure they distributed the whole milk in a way that would not put their foodservice program at risk (low-fat rules) and got building maintenance, Garret Rose, involved to set up the traffic flow for safety.
The school has been serving 450 to 650 individual students’ two meals a day since the COVID-19 closures. Meals are grouped for pickup on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at three locations.
“When you talk about the critical need we have within our community, our foodservice people have been fantastic. They have never taken a day off and there has been no lapse in service for our families,” Keebler indicated.
By Tuesday, April 28, the Joneses had the details set. Keebler used the district’s all-call technology to notify the families of the district’s 1,915 students to let them know about the milk distribution.
A steady flow of cars came through the Titusville Area middle school parking lot Friday as the Whole Milk Gallon Challenge was set up at the front of the school as meals were picked up at the back.
“As families drove in the back through the bus loop for the meals, we reminded them to enter the front and follow the driving pattern to where they had the refrigerated truck with the milk,” Keebler related.
Jake and Casey, with two young children at home, were assisted by a student volunteer Joey Banner in handing out the gallons and information cards. He was enthused about the challenge too.
“We are extremely grateful they reached out with this idea. The ease of collaboration between the family and the district pulled off a very successful event. Developing relationships and connecting with the community is vital,” Keebler noted.
On the milk end, Ralph Kerr and the Titusville Dairy team were instrumental, according to Jake. They provided logistics, the refrigerated truck and put them in touch with Marburgers Dairy to arrange the purchase of the milk.
“Once we had the green light, setting up the logistics went fast. We wanted every gallon of whole milk to have a handout with information,” he added. “We wanted to bless and educate at the same time, while building some ground level support for the choice of whole milk in schools.”
Other than the school district’s automated call to student families, the Joneses did not advertise the event. Until Friday.
“We did a facebook post at 10:30 a.m. that morning, knowing the school lunch pickup was set for 11 a.m. By 10:35 a few vehicles were lining up,” Jake explained. “As the first few cars drove through, we told people to let their friends and neighbors know. By 11:00 a.m., we had a big rush, and then it was steady. People were excited and asking questions.”
After the school meal pickup ended at 12:30, traffic hit a lull. That’s when their facebook post and word-of-mouth drove visitors in from the community.
“Grandparents said their grandchildren told them to come see us. People drove through saying neighbors told them or that they saw it on facebook,” Jake reflected. “We had a massive second rush of people, and some asked for extra gallons so they could take to others.”
It was gratifying to see the blessing multiply.
By 3:30, they had given out 408 gallons of whole milk and contacted the local Associated Charities to receive the remaining 92 gallons.
“The director pulled in to pick those up as we were cleaning up. She told us ‘you have no idea how many people ask for dairy products — especially milk.’ She was also excited about the 97 Milk cards, to learn something new about whole milk and to give them out with their meal boxes,” said Jake.
“By the end of the day we were exhausted, but amazed,” said Casey, and by the evening, they heard from someone involved in agriculture who was inspired to provide funding for another Whole Milk Gallon Challenge if Jake and Casey would help with logistics.
“That’s phase two of our mindset, that anyone can do this,” said Jake. “Whether it’s 500 gallons or 200 gallons or 100, or maybe it’s 200 ice cream cones — to be creative and give not just based on financial need, but as something positive, uplifting and informative for the community.”
While they were distributing, parents were already posting their appreciation on social media. Jake and Casey updated everyone with a post later that day, and it spread through over 200 shares, nearly 500 likes and over 100 comments in short order. Local families contacted them with thanks, and children sent cards.
“Seeing the gratitude, that’s when it hit us,” Casey observed. “This was impactful, and it touched people.”
“It was based on the spirit of things, not the money or financial need, but something positive that everyone could be excited about and thankful for, because it was cool and different,” Jake added. “Handing out the 97 Milk cards (item #400 at the download area at 97milk.com) with each gallon of whole milk was pretty powerful. We saw people mesmerized, looking at them.”
All printable items at 97milk.com have the cost and printer contact information noted. The Joneses ordered on a Friday and had them by mail that Tuesday.
The printer even included some extra cards they made available to local stores interested in putting them out.
“What started as a gesture, opened up a ‘conversation’ with the education piece,” Jake related. “If the public is not educated about whole milk, then all the pushing in the world won’t make the choice of whole milk in schools happen.”
“We want to keep things happening in this town, and it can happen elsewhere,” Casey suggested.
“That’s the challenge,” Jake added. “If someone picks up the idea into other towns, states, with heavier population. Maybe a few families, a business, a group, take on the Whole Milk Gallon Challenge together and build some interest to get schools and families talking.”
Most important, said Jake: “If you are feeling you want to do something but think you can’t do enough, just do what you can. If a handful of people each do a little something – together — in a lot of different places, a lot can be accomplished.”
His advice? First, contact a local bottler. “Google to find a plant in your area or region. Start there. It was very easy once we talked to the people at Titusville Dairy and Marburgers,” Jake advised. “By using a local bottler, the local community gains more bang for your buck in supporting local farms.
“If you are not involved in agriculture and want to do this in your community, ask a local farm where they ship their milk,” Jake suggested.
“Many farms have facebook pages, look for one in your area and contact them that way about milk bottlers in the area,” Casey added.
Other advice: Call an area food bank or charity ahead of time to have a place for remaining milk. Pre-set the hours to a tighter window, like 11 to 2. Start publicizing 4 to 5 days in advance. And work with your local school district.
“Schools have big parking lots with traffic patterns already in place, and they can help you set up a safe flow of traffic and a way of communicating it to families in the district,” Jake said. “Plus, getting the school involved — superintendent, building manager, foodservice — increases awareness and gets them thinking and talking about whole milk.”
“It has to be whole milk with the educational component for the long-term impact,” said Casey. “Our mindset was to buy the milk and give it away, along with the information.”
“Let people know this is as much a gift as an educational thing, and that all are welcome to receive,” Jake concluded. “Don’t be intimidated by a number, just do what you can.
“We would challenge all of us to do what we can because we can all be doing more.”
To contact Jake and Casey Jones for information and advice to do a Whole Milk Gallon Challenge, email them at Jake.firstname.lastname@example.org
May 1, 2020 was ‘food heroes’ day — a national day to honor school nutrition personnel. In Titusville, Pa., cars had brightly colored signs of thanks for their every day food heroes at the school preparing meals for pickup, and for the milk heroes providing gallons of whole milk to their community.
As stores raise prices and limit sales, while farmers are forced to dump milk and see their prices fall to historic lows, many respond with dairy purchases for donation drive-throughs. This example in New Holland provided whole milk from farm to table with love. It was a beautiful blessing to see…
By Sherry Bunting, preview of Farmshine cover story for May 1, 2020
NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — At a time like this, we all need good news. Brothers Mike and Karl Sensenig of Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland, Pennsylvania started thinking about the concerns of farmers and people in their communities during this Coronavirus pandemic. They couldn’t understand why farmers were having to dump milk with nowhere for it to go, while stores had limits on purchases or empty shelves and higher prices.
So, they did the one thing they could do… They gave.
“We wanted to give back to our community — and the shelters and missions and food pantries — while helping support our family farm customers at the same time,” the brothers said.The idea started coming together two weeks ago. Many of the feed mill’s dairy farm customers in eastern Lancaster County ship their milk to Clover Farms Dairy, a bottling plant in Reading. The Sensenigs spoke with Brian Ohlinger at Clover and put together a purchase order for a tractor trailer load of over 4000 gallons of whole milk for donation.
That number quickly grew to 5200 gallons as word of the plans for a Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through “From Farm to Table with Love” quickly spread through phone calls and social media.
Mike’s wife Nancy fielded over 150 calls with groups and individuals wanting to pre-order for families in need. The entire company — all of the employees — were involved. They amassed a list of over 25 outreach organizations pre-ordering hundreds of gallons to distribute from New Holland to Lancaster to Reading and Allentown, including notables like Water Street Mission, Blessings of Hope, Crossnet, Crossfire, Petra, Safehouse, Good Samaritan and other ministries, churches, shelters, town and company food banks, fire companies, nursing homes, youth centers — so many organizations.
The Sensenigs saw the need and desire for whole milk growing, and they quickly realized even this would not be enough. So, they worked with Clover to get a second single-axle truck of 1152 gallons.
Cars lined up early on the first day of the Whole Milk Donation Drive-through (Apr. 23), while trucks were loaded with bulk orders for charities. The drive-through lines were opened ahead of schedule, and within the first 30 minutes, they had already served around 100 cars.
If this pace kept up, the Sensenigs feared they would run out. So, they called Clover again, and within two hours, a third truck arrived on the premises with another 1100 to 1200 gallons.
All told, Sensenig’s Feed Mill had purchased 7,476 gallons of milk for donation so supplies would last through both days of drive-through times.
Two generations of the family — Karl, Mike, and Mike’s sons Kyle and Kurt, along with employees Devin Shirk, Steve Morris, Greg Hill, Curtis Hershey, and Lee Stoltzfus loaded vans, trucks, and cars with fresh gallons of whole milk, while Mike’s wife Nancy and employee Dawn Wright directed cars through the M&T Bank parking lot into two lines on either side of the truck and tent.
Even Karl and Mike’s parents Ken and Sandy drove over to watch.
They are quick to point out that this would not have been possible without their employees. “This isn’t just us,” he said. “Everyone was excited to do this and to be involved.” The family’s feed mill is celebrating its 75th year in New Holland.
Also wanting to make an impact, a group of concerned citizens affiliated with M&T Bank joined their neighbors in the parking lot — bringing 150 dozen eggs and 50 fresh-baked loaves of bread from Achenbach’s Bakery, Leola.
Kurt Sensenig even donned an inflatable cow costume at the start, before he was called back to the feed mill.
“We have been overwhelmed by the response since we first started taking pre-orders to gauge how much milk we would need. Then the steady stream of people just driving through was amazing. There is so much emotion,” said Mike.
“This brings home the reality of how many people are struggling right now. And it shows how many people LOVE WHOLE MILK!” said Karl. “Some who drove through the line had tears in their eyes. It seems like something so little. Then you realize how it helps so much, and it shows us how much we can take for granted.”
He tells of a grandmother who drove through with her two grandchildren she is raising. She tentatively asked if she could have two gallons. “I said, ‘you can have more if you need it,’” Karl reflected. “She wondered if it’s not too much trouble, she would use four gallons. I said, ‘sure!’ What she said next really got to me: ‘Now my grandkids can have milk with their cereal.’”
Cereal is a popular item for food bank distribution, but milk is hard to come by, especially whole milk.
One person drove through, saying they had stopped at their usual store to buy milk, but found no whole milk, so they came to Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through and took home four gallons.
Many veterans in the area came through and were grateful for the whole milk they accepted with smiles. Drive-through crews, in turn, thanked them for their service.
The bottom line for the Sensenigs and their employees was to bless others even as they believe they are blessed; to do something positive for their community; to help dairy farmers by connecting dots to get whole milk to missions, food banks and families; to bring smiles to young and old during uncertain times that have changed life as we know it.
“We have many dairy farm families as our customers, and we see the milk they have been forced to dump in the past few weeks due to supply chain disruptions while at the same time stores limiting purchases of milk or having little or no whole milk on the shelves,” said Mike. “Clover gave us a price for just the milk, and they packed the first two orders in boxes for us and provided the refrigerated trucks to stay here two days.”
“It takes teamwork,” said Karl. As part of the loading crew, he and his brother were busy all day in constant motion, unloading skids, opening boxes, loading trucks and trunks, and handing out gallons to appreciative people as they drove through.
“I’ll sleep good tonight,” said Karl.
Mike agreed: “Our minds and bodies are exhausted, but our hearts are full.”
The community of farmers and citizens thank all involved! This scene being repeated in other communities is a beautiful thing to see.
Others have stepped up doing similar milk donations. Some businesses have bought 500 gallons to give to employees and food banks; one couple in western Pennsylvania feeling blessed to still be working in agriculture are using their stimulus check to buy 500 gallons of whole milk to donate in a drive-through next week at their school; young farmer clubs and other organizations are working with milk cooperatives and processors to donate and raise funds for dairy donation drive-throughs in other parts of Pennsylvania, New York, the Southeast and elsewhere. Some are set up weekly, with people giving donations as they pick up milk and dairy products that are then used the next week to purchase more for donation.
Meanwhile, many store chains are raising prices and limiting purchases to shoppers for milk and dairy products on their sparsely stocked shelves, claiming a shortage, even as farmers are receiving letters that they must cut production because their product “has no demand,” and they are seeing the price they are paid for their milk fall by more than 35% in just four weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing how the centralized supply chain is broken — not making the shift from foodservice to retail. Drive-through donation deals like this one, connect the dots at a more localized level so families get access to the milk and dairy products — especially whole milk — that they need want, while helping outreach organizations distribute to the growing number of families facing unemployment and business closures.
On Friday, April 24th, as the New Holland Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through came to a close, 97 Milk LLC — a grassroots volunteer milk education effort — announced on facebook a fundraising collaboration with Blessings of Hope food pantry mission. The new campaign specifically raises funds to purchase whole milk gallons for the ongoing blessing boxes to families in a 200-mile radius of the Blessings of Hope warehouse in Leola, Pa.
Dozens of dairy-related agribusinesses already sponsor the grassroots farmers’ 97 Milk education effort, which began a little over a year ago with a round bale painted by Berks County, Pa. farmer Nelson Troutman with the words Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free. (Whole milk is standardized to 3.25% fat). Such ‘baleboards’ now dot the countryside, along with banners, vehicle signs, a website, facebook page and other social media platforms (97milk.com and @97milk on facebook and instagram; @97milk1 on twitter).
Postcript: Karl and Mike Sensenig wish to recognize the mill’s entire team of employees for making the April 23-24 Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through possible: In addition to Karl, Mike, Kurt, Kyle, Scott, Emily and Nancy Sensenig, employees Calvin Buckwalter, Dale Clymer Jr., Ryan Crowther, Raymond Geiter III, Ashley Gesswein, Jared Grosh, Tim Hall, Curtis Hershey, Greg Hill, Dr. Don Jaquette, Joshua Kenderdine, Gerald Martin, Lawrence Martin, Nathan Martin, Steve Morris, Todd Morris, Steven Oberholtzer, Ron Phippen Jr., Devin Shirk, Eugene Shirk, David Stauffer, Allen Steffy, Terry Tshudy, Dwayne Weaver, Elmer Weaver, John Weaver, Logan Weaver, Nelson Weaver, Thomas Weaver and Dawn Wright were all involved. Even the previous generation to run the feed mill — Ken and Sandy Sensenig — came out to watch.
The Sensenigs and their employees are happy to be part of something that blesses others, to see it multiplied, to see people appreciate whole milk, and to know what their customer dairy farm families produce is in demand. These efforts are uplifting and make a difference.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: With proof of concept in place, the support of farmers and community running strong (see graphic), and the public response rewarding these efforts, there is something powerful here with the 97 Milk effort, and it is just the beginning.
By Sherry Bunting from Farmshine, October 23, 2019
RICHLAND, Pa. — One farmer. One roundbale. And six painted words — Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free.
The excitement of the 97 Milk effort is contagious. What started with Nelson Troutman’s first painted roundbale in Richland, Pa., has rapidly multiplied into community-wide and nation-wide milk education efforts aimed at consumers on one hand and policymakers on the other.
By February, retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia found five businesses to pay for the first 1000 magnetic 12” x 12” vehicle signs with the same message. Since then, more companies have joined in and some of the original businesses have printed more.
As legislators began to take notice, Morrissey and Troutman assembled a grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee of 10 farmers that meet monthly in person or by teleconference and interact with lawmakers, including the petition effort to bring whole milk back to schools. More agribusinesses joined in to help fund their expenses.
Then, 4’ x 6’ banners were created for places of high visibility and an effort to place them at stores is underway. A September Farmshine cover story helped spread the word. Morrissey reports the banners “are going like hotcakes” with additional businesses joining in to print more.
Another effort was underway simultaneously, when Rick Stehr invited a diverse group of farmers to a February meeting in Lancaster County to talk about milk education beyond the bale. Today, the joint efforts work together like two well-oiled machines comprised solely of volunteers.
Stehr recalls getting questions back in January. He invited Morrissey to talk about the milk baleboards at R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter dairy meeting. Noted expert Calvin Covington was the keynote speaker that day, and he told the 300 dairy farmers that promotion needs to focus on domestic demand, and that “we in the dairy industry need to talk about milkfat and not hide behind it not wanting things to change. Consumers want that taste, and we’re not talking about it,” he said.
Morrissey then told the crowd about Troutman’s “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free” roundbales that were just starting to multiply at farms and businesses after a cover story appeared in Farmshine.
“As I talked with non-ag people, I realized many of them didn’t know quite what it meant,” says Stehr. “I thought the missing link is education. We needed to educate the public.”
Stehr’s daughter Jackie Behr has long believed milk sales suffer because milk education is missing. She has a marketing degree from Penn State and experience in non-ag positions before becoming R&J’s marketing manager.
Even Behr was surprised by her February focus group interviews with non-ag friends. “I was blown away by the obvious gap between dairy farms, milk nutrition and consumer perception,” she reports.
Behr shared the focus group responses at a February meeting of farmers that included Troutman. “It was an obvious eye-opener for everyone. These were educated women responding to my questions. How did we miss so much milk education all of these years?” Behr wondered.
They not only had zero knowledge of milk’s nutrition — other than calcium — their minds were full of information that was just plain false.
They said they drank organic milk because they ‘didn’t want to drink all those hormones.’ Or they chose almond beverage ‘because there are no antibiotics in it.’
“The biggest misconception is how much fat they thought was in whole milk. Just like Nelson’s been saying. And when you tell them whole milk is standardized to 3.25% fat, their response is ‘Oh, wow!’ That alone is big,” says Behr.
Her marketing savvy kicked in. Ideas for a website were kicked around with obvious choices already taken.
Then one attendee said: “How about 97 Milk?”
It fit. And it captured attention. By the second meeting, they were ready to establish 97 Milk LLC and chose a volunteer board of Lancaster County farmers Mahlon Stoltzfus, Lois Beyer, Jordan Zimmerman and Behr, with GN Hursh serving as chairman.
The website was up and running by the end of February with a Facebook page (@97Milk) that has gained more than 8,500 followers in less than eight months and a weekly average reach of over 150,000. Individual posts have reached up to 1.2 million through thousands of shares and hundreds of interactions. Twitter (@97Milk1) and Instagram (@97Milk) are also active.
Behr says it all stems from what Troutman started, and he was happy to add 97milk.com to the bales with Morrissey making sure the website appears on signs and banners.
“To get someone to change their mind, you have to get the facts in front of them,” Behr observes. “We’ve got three seconds in front of their eyes to leave information that plants a seed.”
With some content help from others, Behr comes up with ideas, designs and coordinates Facebook posts six days a week.
The result? “People are shocked and come back and say, ‘I had no idea,’” Behr explains. “I am in the industry, and even I have learned so much about milk that I didn’t know before.”
“Now that 97 Milk has become a tool used by dairy farmers to educate the public about our product, the conversations that are happening are only the beginning,” Stehr observes. “We could have 97 Milk boards across the nation.”
As interest builds, 97 Milk LLC is looking into how different geographies could have their own chapters, with the website and materials providing some continuity.
“That’s where the power is, with the producers in each community or state,” says Stehr.
He credits Troutman and Morrissey for getting everyone’s attention and believes what they are doing creates the opportunity for the ‘beyond-the-bale’ education piece carried by 97 Milk LLC.
“The word milk has been used liberally, and the understanding of what it is has been diluted,” says Stehr. “We let that happen over the past 30 years and did nothing about it. We let them bash our product. Now we are educating people that the fat in milk is not bad, that there’s not 10% or 50% fat in whole milk, but 3.25%, that there is complete protein in milk and all of these other good things.”
From the baleboards, vehicle signs, banners and communications of the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee, to the website, social media and educational events of 97 Milk LLC, a common bond unites these efforts — Troutman’s practical courage when he painted the first roundbale because he was frustrated and had had enough.
“We have lost market share, why? Because people don’t know what milk is and they don’t know what it tastes like,” says Troutman. “By promoting whole milk, we are opening their eyes and their tastebuds.”
While national co-ops think it’s “innovative” to develop a low-fat milk and nut juice blend, those involved in 97 Milk believe the response they see from diverse consumers tells a different story.
“People want to feel good about the products they are buying. The goal of 97 Milk is to share education, to share the dairy farmers’ stories,” says Behr. “You don’t pick up health magazines and see the benefits of milk. People need to see that positive information because they don’t know what milk provides.”
The Dairy Question Desk at the website fields a steady stream of five questions per week and when social media is included, 97 Milk fields 5 to 20 questions a day.
Every one of Behr’s original focus group have switched to whole dairy milk. The experience so far shows her consumers know very little about milk and have a real willingness to learn.
“All of our messages are simple. One fact. An infographic that’s simple to understand and that people can relate to,” says Behr. “Even if we have their eyes for just three seconds scrolling through, that little seed is huge.”
The posts fill other gaps. Behr believes people want to see that dairy farmers love their cows, that they care. The baleboard sightings and “cow kisses” have poured in for posting from several states.
The posts also help consumers fulfill a desire to be connected to their food, to buy local, and to support family-owned small businesses. “The simple fact that 97% of dairy farms are family-owned is a post that generated a lot of activity,” says Behr.
While she sees the environmental discussion as being big right now, she attributes this to the vegan activists driving it. By contrast, the 97 Milk facebook data and demographics reveal that 90% of consumers really want to hear about the health benefits, according to Behr.
She gives the example of the popular “yummy yogurt” infographic posted last week. It was visually attractive and simply listed a few health benefits.
“We get a few facts out on an infographic, and if you’re kind of hungry — or a mother like me trying to find healthy snacks for my kids — it hits,” says Behr. “It’s the simple things that get milk back in and help people feel good about buying milk products.”
The support from the agriculture community, and others, has been overwhelming.
“When someone calls, who you’re not even working with, to complement the work Jackie is doing, that’s rewarding,” says Stehr.
“When you see the response of a person in your community finding out they can drink whole milk and they really like it, that’s rewarding,” says Troutman.
“When legislators hold up a sign, or want their picture taken with a baleboard and say ‘this is the best thing going in dairy right now’, that’s rewarding,” says Morrissey.
“When people write into the Dairy Desk and we can answer their questions, that’s rewarding,” says Behr. “But most rewarding is hearing the excitement, seeing dairy farmers wanting to be involved, understanding the importance of marketing and seeing the results of getting involved. Receiving a simple note thanking us for positive messages, that’s rewarding.”
97 Milk LLC raised funds from more than 20 local and national businesses (see graphic) to cover expenses for the website and printed materials, and they’ve worked with Allied Milk Producers to have milk and dairy products available for parades, corn mazes, and other venues.
Meanwhile, individuals and communities take it upon themselves to paint bales, print bumper stickers, make signs, incorporate the message into corn maze designs, hometown parades, create farm tour handouts, initiate milk tents at athletic events, and more.
Young people are enthusiastic: FFA chapters, 4-H clubs and county dairy maids are printing their own banners and carrying the message at diverse public events. They love participating because it is real milk education, sharing the truth about milk and the life and work of America’s dairy farming families.
Morrissey and Troutman get calls from other states for banners and car magnets, and they’ve sent to these states at cost. Locally, the businesses paying for printing these items are giving them away (see graphic).
Behr has also designed items with the 97 Milk website logo, cows and farm scenes. These files are on the download area at 97milk.com and can be used to make banners, yard signs, license plates, bumper stickers, educational handouts, and more.
Troutman has added new baleboards for community events, including one that reads: Ask for Whole Milk in School. He and Behr recently did a television interview with a local PBS station.
Both the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee and the 97 Milk LLC are running on shoestring budgets from donations (see graphic) with all volunteer effort, and the grassroots are blooming where planted to multiply the impact in ways too numerous to mention.
As a glimmer of hope, fluid milk sales nationally were up 0.2% in July, the first year-over-year increase in decades, with whole milk up 3.6% and flavored whole up 10.4%. Stores surveyed in southeastern Pennsylvania, where 97 Milk began, say whole milk sales are up significantly since January. It is also notable that many stores don’t seem to be able to keep enough whole milk on the shelves — a nationally obvious phenomenon.
Also being promoted is the petition to bring whole milk back to schools. This week, the online petition ( https://www.change.org/p/bring-whole-milk-back-to-schools ) topped 8000 signatures, plus 4000 were mailed in envelopes for a first-batch delivery in Washington Oct. 24, with a second batch goal to double that by January.
Reflecting on the past 10 months, Troutman says, “I thought if they’re not going to do it, someone has to, and here I am.”
And he’s happy. “Really, I’m thankful, thankful for so many who are helping make this work.”
To contact the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee about banners, magnetic vehicle signs and baleboards, call Bernie Morrissey at 610.693.6471 or Nelson Troutman at 717.821.1484.
To contact 97 Milk LLC about spreading the milk education to other communities, email email@example.com or call Jackie Behr at 717.203.6777 or write to 97 Milk LLC, PO Box 87, Bird in Hand, PA 17505, and visit www.97milk.com, of course.
SHINGLEHOUSE, Pa. — Educating the public has long been a passion of the Hoffman family at Hoffman Farms in Potter County, Pennsylvania. The school and home communities of the two generations (five families) involved in the 1000-cow dairy are on both sides of the Pennsylvania / New York boundary.
In fact, Tricia (Hoffman) Adams gave a presentation back in 2006 on how they set up the learning components of their school tours at a Women in Dairy Conference that year. Attendees were inspired to find ways to invite the community in, and the family was later recognized with a Pa. Pacesetter Award in part because of progressive operations on the farm and in part because of their commitment to educating the community about milk and dairy farms.
Today, with tours, community events, a facebook page and the next generation so involved in school clubs and sports activities — in addition to showing dairy animals and market steers and pigs — the family has become a recognized source for their community to ask questions about dairy, livestock and agriculture, in general.
Earlier this year, the Hoffmans were among the many farms painting round bales and placing them in visible areas with the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free message. They have always served whole milk, along with other dairy treats, when schools and community groups tour the farm. The Baleboards drew attention and gave Tricia an opening to answer questions people didn’t even know they had!
She reports that the schoolchildren on tours last spring loved the ‘milk baleboards’ and wanted their pictures taken with the “cool” roundbales.
In fact, the 97 Milk effort has revitalized Tricia’s educational resources, she says. She and her father Dale Hoffman are also both serving on the grassroots Pennsylvania Dairy Advisory Committee.
In September, Tricia worked with two vendors — Dan Rosicka of Progressive Dairy Solutions and Country Crossroads Feed and Seed to help share the good news about whole milk. Each vendor purchased 50 of the 12-inch x 12-inch magnetic vehicle signs with the 97 Milk message and website to make available in the community.
Tricia also acquired a 4-foot x 6-foot banner as well as other materials with the 97 Milk message and milk education information.
And then she added her own flare. She had been thinking about it and working on it on-and-off since summer. The farm was hosting a multi-school championship cross-country meet in October, and she was providing the “recovery” beverages – whole milk and whole chocolate milk — and other goodies.
“I’m not one to sit around and wait for help,” says Tricia. Like other dairy producers she is frustrated with the negativity surrounding milk and meat. “I am upset that our children have to suffer in their school diets, with the lack of milk choice and the meatless days. I decided our farm will do what we can to promote the ag industry through ag education, ag awareness and ag positivity!”
Each time Hoffman Farms is asked to donate money to a school club or a team sport, they donate dairy products instead — “with a side of education,” says Tricia.
For the North Tier League Championship Cross-Country Meet on October 15 at Hoffman Farms, Tricia set up two tents and tables. In addition to the 97 Milk banner, she had a Chocolate Milk Refuel and Recovery banner. For the “side of education,” she created a large cutout cow and numerous ‘spots’ with questions and answers.
As a farm that buys their own materials for these events and tours, Tricia feels strongly that whole milk products should be served and serves them when the events are after school or at the farm so that the schools are not jeopardized in any way due to the flawed diet rules they have to live by during school hours.
She reports that the young people (and adults) say they look forward to having “the good milk.”
“Whole chocolate milk as a recovery drink after a race, whole milk cheese sticks or toasted cheese sandwich supplies to add to a sports concession stand — whatever helps our industry and our future generation of students is what we are going to focus on,” Tricia explains.
She’ll admit that some days, “It feels like an uphill battle, but we have had many clubs, organizations and businesses wanting to help as well,” says Trica.
“At the end of the day, I’m not sure how many people will benefit or even how much I can change, but I would rather try by doing something constructive.”