Milk education ‘heroes’: How 97 Milk came to be

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.

Nelson Troutman placed his first “Milk Baleboard” in a pasture by an intersection.

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.”

Nelson Troutman and Jackie Behr prepare for a television interview about 97 Milk.

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 97wholemilk@gmail.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.

 -30-

Hoffman Farms: ‘We do what we can to promote milk education’

By Sherry Bunting for Farmshine Nov. 8, 2019

Tricia (Hoffman) Adams planned her educational exhibit for months ahead of a multi-county cross country meet at the farm on October 15.

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.”

Three generations are involved in the award-winning 1000-cow dairy at Hoffman Farms in Potter County, Pa. The farm was founded by Dale and Carol Hoffman with 30 cows. Today their daughter Tricia and sons Keith, Brad, and Josh have transitioned into leadership and a third generation is also involved.

-30-

Good news about milk is spreading rapidly

Milk Baleboard message reaches over 1 million people in first 7 days online (www.97milk.com, @97milk on facebook, @97milk1 on twitter)

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 1, 2019

RICHLAND, Pa. – It has taken off with overwhelming response on social media, and consumers reading and sharing the posts from “97 Milk” are expressing their surprise at how much they are learning about the goodness of milk while farmers are enthused to have a vehicle of grassroots promotion that sticks to the basics — promoting the healthy wholesomeness of dairy and helping consumers make informed choices about milk.

The big news this week is that the 97milk.com website and its corresponding facebook (@97milk) and twitter (@97milk1) accounts, have been very active, very quickly since launching last Friday evening, Feb. 22. Facebook, alone, had reached 1.2 million people by midnight Wednesday, just six days after launching.

What is 97 Milk, you ask?

Last week’s Farmshine had a feature story on page 19 about the launch of the website www.97milk.com as a grassroots offshoot of the Milk Baleboards that are popping up on farms and business properties across the countryside.

Those round bales painted with the message: Drink Local Whole Milk – 97% Fat Free were the idea of Richland, Pennsylvania dairy farmer Nelson Troutman. We have been following the development of his idea in the pages of Farmshine since Nelson made his first Milk Baleboard, pictured on our January 4, 2019 cover.

In fact, Nelson reports as of Wednesday morning, nearly two months after he made his first Milk Baleboard, he has made 26 — including one that was delivered to Farmshine on Feb. 27. He has delivered to many farms and businesses.

In addition, Dale Zimmerman of Zimhaven Holsteins in East Earl, made Milk Baleboards for his farm as well as for Shady Maple Smorgasbord just down the road. And other farmers are joining in.

Nelson continues to receive phone calls and has become somewhat famous in his community, attracting shoppers when he visits the grocery store in his home town.

“No one. Not one person, has said to me that, yes, they knew milk is virtually 97% fat free. No one, not young, nor old, nor in between,” Nelson stated in a follow up email with Farmshine early Wednesday morning, Feb. 27. “Since the bales and the website, I had people say to me that when their kids were small, the doctor told them to drink 2% milk, and now the kids are grown, and they were still drinking 2% milk — until this information came out. Now, they tell me they are drinking whole milk.

“This is all 100% education,” Nelson relates.

This overwhelming response has gone to the next level with the online presence that began Feb. 22 through a website, facebook page, instagram and twitter account for 97 Milk as the educational effort of grassroots dairy farmers. Through social media, the good news is spreading well beyond the Lebanon, Lancaster and Berks County region of Pennsylvania where the first Milk Baleboards were made and placed by Nelson on farms and businesses in the area.

How can this be?

Judging by the facebook page, there is an obvious consumer thirst for milk knowledge and an obvious farmer passion to deliver knowledge simply — without the dietary politics.

Within the first 72 hours, the @97milk facebook page had over 1000 likes and had reached over 100,000 people with the good news that whole milk is virtually 97% fat free.

Over the next 36 hours by mid-morning on Wed., Feb. 27 — not quite five days after launch — the facebook page had nearly 1,650 likes and follows, and the informational posts had reached a whopping 700,000 people. (By Thursday, Feb. 28, less than 7 days after launch, the page had over 2000 likes and had reached 1.2 million people.)

Even more important, these posts had — in less than 7 days — “engaged” nearly 100,000 people via likes, comments and shares of the educational information posted on the page. This does not include those who downloaded the informational images and shared them without sharing directly from the facebook page!

A post over the weekend (see image) illustrated the essential nutrients in milk and its composition as a hydrating beverage made up of 88% water, 5% carbohydrate, 3.5% protein and 3.25% fat, showing the long list of essential nutrients by their percentages of daily recommended values. This illustrative glass of milk reached nearly 100,000 facebook users by Wednesday morning and had engaged over 7,000 in likes, comments and shares.


Consumers are thirsty for knowledge about milk. Here is one simple example of how 97 Milk keeps the good news going. This visual facebook message was posted Wed., Feb. 27, reaching 3,300 people with nearly 300 interactions within its first three hours. Facebook image from @97milk

Another post that explained the fat percentages of milk had reached 45,000 people with 3200 interactions.

Another post giving comparisons of Real Whole Milk, 1% Real Milk, Soy, Almond and Coconut beverage reached over 17,000 people with over 1700 interactions within 24 hours.

And another post sharing the good news that all milk is tested free of antibiotics reached a whopping 608,000 facebook users and resulted in over 44,000 interactions, including over 9,000 direct shares!

Meanwhile, the posts have brought in questions and discussion in the form of public comments on the facebook page and in the form of questions sent by private message. In fact, these interactions are coming from far and wide — local, national, even international.

On Tuesday morning, the 97 Milk facebook page posted this explanation of why the Milk Baleboards have expanded to online 97 Milk communications:

“97 Milk was created to be a voice for our local dairy farmers. This is a place where people can get information on nutritious dairy products. It’s a place where farmers can tell their story, a place where our community can get information on how to support local dairy farms. There is so much confusing information regarding dairy, and there are always two sides to every story. 97 Milk tells the story of the many farms that love and care for their cows, the passion that many dairy farmers have, the many proven research-based facts on milk nutrition. This is our side that our community deserves to hear.”

The website is mentioned on every post, and it is a simple place to direct people who see the Milk Baleboards and the social media posts and want to learn more of the basics about Real Whole Milk.

Planned in the coming weeks are posts for social media that continue to provide bite-sized fact nuggets about milk, including how to learn where milk was bottled, why milk protein is called a complete protein, quotes from farmers about why they love what they do, and other inspirations. Check it out.

If you have a Milk Baleboard on your property, or have seen one displayed, please let us know the location (agrite@ptd.net) in order to help create a map of how the good news is spreading by these grassroots efforts.

If you would like a Milk Baleboard, check out last week’s page 19 feature story giving tips from Nelson on how to make one, and contact Nelson at 717. 821.1484 or Bernie Morrissey at 717.951.1774.

Jordan Zimmerman of East Earl is making and selling bumper stickers through the Lancaster County Holstein Association, and Morrissey has ordered magnetic signs.

To learn more about the online efforts, and to help spread the good news, check out the website at 97milk.com, facebook page @97milk and twitter account @97milk1.


Nelson Troutman of Richland, Pa. has made 26 Milk Baleboards for other farms and businesses in the area. Two weeks ago, he began painting them in his shop with the 97milk.com website! Photo by Sherry Bunting