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-

Congressman to dairy farmers: ‘Government is between you and the consumer’

Dairy Advisory Committee formed, meets with federal, state lawmakers

During a June 3 roundtable discussion between dairy stakeholders and Pennsylvania state and federal lawmakers, Nelson Troutman (right) said Pennsylvania is a fluid milk island with milk and consumers right here, but pressure pushing in from all sides. He said the state is losing its ability to compete as federal dietary rules suppress fluid milk sales while the state’s antiquated milk marketing law incentivizes more milk-swaps along the four borders as fluid milk sales decline. Clockwise from top left are U.S. Congressmen G.T. Thompson (R-15th) and Dan Meuser (R-9th), State Senator David Argall, Lolly Lesher, Mike Eby, Dale Hoffman, Tricia Adams, Nelson Troutman, Bernie Morrissey, State Senator Scott Martin, Karl Sensenig, Bonnie Wenger, Krista Byler, Craig Lutz for Sen. Argall’s office, and Katie Sattazahn. Also present were various legislative staff. Attendees shared USDA data showing that in the past 12 months, Pennsylvania lost more cows (29,000 head) and more production (66 mil. monthly pounds) than any other state in the nation, with the potential see even greater losses in the next 12 months without substantial change.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 14, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. — “What I’m hearing here is that the government is between you and the consumer. You would have no problem marketing milk if you could get your message and product to the people,” said U.S. Congressman G.T. Thompson, representing Pennsylvania’s 15th legislative district over a swath of central and northcentral and northwest Pennsylvania.

That summed up the concerns related to school milk, dairy checkoff, fake milk labeling and other issues during a meeting between 11 dairy stakeholders and a dozen state and federal lawmakers and staff in Harrisburg on June 3.

It was a listening session that was followed by a productive work session as the grassroots group will continue to meet and correspond as a Dairy Advisory Committee.

(l-r) Nelson Troutman, Mike Eby, Pa. State Senator David Argall, Bernie Morrissey, Craig Lutz.

Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey and 97 Milk Baleboard initiator Nelson Troutman worked with Pa. State Senator David Argall of Berks and Schuykill counties to set up the meeting.

They pulled together an advisory committee of 11 people, including Troutman and Morrissey, along with Dale Hoffman and his daughter Tricia Adams of Hoffman Farms, Potter County; Mike Eby, a Lancaster County farmer and president of National Dairy Producers Organization; Lolly Lesher of Way-Har Farms, Berks County; Katie Sattazahn of Zahncroft Farms, Womelsdorf; Krista Byler, foodservice director for Union City School District in Crawford and Erie counties, whose husband operates a crop and dairy farm in Spartansburg; Bonnie Wenger of Wen-Crest Farms, doing custom cropping and heifer raising for dairies in Lebanon and Berks counties; and Karl Sensenig of Sensenig Feed Mill, New Holland. 

I was privileged to moderate the discussion, for which an outline was provided in advance.

Congressman Thompson was joined by Congressman Dan Meuser, who represents Pennsylvania’s 9th district covering Carbon, Columbia, Lebanon, Montour and Schuykill counties along with portions of Berks, Luzerne and Northumberland.

In addition to State Senator David Argall, State Senator Scott Martin of Lancaster County attended, as ded legislative aids for Senators Ryan Aument, Elder Vogel, and Mike Folmer with additional interest from State Representatives John Lawrence and David Zimmerman.

Lawmakers said they left the discussion with “more work to do” and an “elevated awareness.” Their message to dairy farmers was: “Keep it up. Keep doing what you’re doing (a nod to the 97 Milk campaign and the planned rally for the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act on June 18 at the state Capitol). They said raising public awareness is crucial.

“Every few days, the bill gets another cosponsor,” said Rep. Thompson of HR 832 introduced in late January. “It will take public support and momentum to reverse this. It’s a challenging task.”

Even with evidence that bad science led to the federal school lunch milkfat restrictions, Thompson said the House Committee on Education and Labor must take up the bill in order for it to move forward. He noted that current leadership of that committee is the same as in 2010 when The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act tightened the vice grip on milk fat. (Learn more about the school lunch changes over the past 10 to 20 years here.)

The 2010 legislation with the blessing of former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack not only prohibited whole milk in the National School Lunch Program, it also reduced total calories, required less than 10% calories from saturated fat and made the milk part of the meal’s nutrient analysis.

With a nod to Krista Byler, Thompson said he understands more is needed beyond HR 832. “We need to eliminate the beverage information from the nutrient standards limitations,” said Thompson.

Discussion followed about the current Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization process currently underway in the Senate and what opportunities might exist for a regulatory change there.

Byler noted that while every child gets a milk, many students throw the milk away and buy sugary drinks that don’t offer milk’s nutrition.

Legislators were surprised to learn that high school students can’t buy whole milk but they can buy Mountain Dew Kickstart at school. This 80-calorie beverage made by PepsiCo — the company that also created a Smart Snacks website for school foodservice directors and received the GENYOUth Vanguard Award last November — is deemed “okay” by the current USDA Dietary Guidelines because it has fewer calories than milk, zero fat and a list of added, not natural, vitamins and minerals. But it also has 20 grams of carbohydrate, 19 grams of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup and zero protein, whereas whole milk has 12 grams of natural carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein.

In addition to Mountain Dew Kickstart, students in high schools and middle schools across the U.S. can buy other sweetened drinks like PepsiCo’s Gatorade as well as iced tea coolers. In addition, high schools are also permitted to have coffee bars.

Yet schools are prohibited from offering whole milk (3.25% fat) or reduced-fat (2%) with its high-quality protein and long list of natural nutrients – unless a child has a medical note from a physician.

On the flip side, schools must provide non-dairy substitutes like soy and almond beverage if a parent, not a physician, writes a note. And no notes are needed for students to throw away the milk and grab a sweetened high-carb beverage from PepsiCo.

“My purpose in coming here, after speaking with other foodservice directors across the state, is the changes that were made to allow 1% flavored milk last spring are having disheartening results. Schools have been doing the fat-free flavored milk as a requirement for so long, they don’t all understand the new rule,” Byler explained.

Part of the issue, she said, is they have their cycle menus done far in advance, and the changes to the milk — even if whole milk were suddenly allowed — do not fit into the nutrient analysis of the meal.

Before 2010, the milk was not included in the nutrient analysis of the school lunch or breakfast.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to hear members of Congress talk about this,” said Byler. “This bill (HR 832) is amazing, but it doesn’t have legs to stand on without the regulatory change to exclude milk from the nutrient analysis of the meal. For schools to have this choice, this bill needs to pass, and the milk needs to be a standalone component of the meal, otherwise schools won’t be able to make it work.”

She said the same goes for the Smart Snacks program. An exception to regulations is needed so schools can offer whole milk, just as they can offer PepsiCo’s energy drinks.

At the federal level, Rep. Thompson said the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation is working on getting a companion bill for HR 832 in the U.S. Senate. (This actually did happene a day after this report was filed for press — Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) introduced the Milk In Lunch for Kids (MILK) Act this week. Bill number and text have not yet been posted)

“The biggest thing we need is to generate enough public support,” said Thompson.

The Dairy Advisory Committee urged Pa. State Senators to support a resolution on the federal bills.

On The Dairy Pride Act, Thompson was more optimistic. He believes FDA is giving an indication that the public has been misled by competing alternative beverages that infer by the name “milk” to have the nutritional attributes of milk.

Tricia Adams spoke of the many school tours she conducts at Hoffman Farms in the spring and summer, and what the kids tell them about school milk.

She says the kids are “brutally honest. They tell us, ‘This is the good milk!’ But just to get whole milk for a tour, I have to special order weeks in advance,” she says. “It’s a struggle to get enough of it at one time. It’s just not available.”

 Her father Dale Hoffman observed that farmers are so busy, it’s tough to be involved in these things. He said it is scary how fast Pennsylvania is dropping in cow numbers and production.

“Somewhere, we need to get our foot in the door. This has got to be done if Pennsylvania is going to compete. We have the milk and the consumers right here,” said Hoffman. “We need your help. We hear it’s tough to get done, but it’s time to get whole milk back in the schools.”

Mike Eby said he sold his cows three years ago, but producers selling today “are getting half of what I got.” He said the dairy situation is increasingly difficult for farm families to manage whether they are staying in, or getting out, as the value of their assets shrink along with income.

“Where is our milk going to be coming from when we all go out?” he asked.

Eby describe the power of whole milk. He has been part of an effort to give out whole milk that is standardized to 3.5% fat instead of 3.25% to meet the California standards. 

“We give the milk away at four parades a year,” he said, and the math adds up to over 10,000 individual servings. “We could give more! They love it. People are screaming for that milk.”

Circling back to Rep. Thompson’s point. The problem isn’t the product, the problem is the government getting between the farmer and the consumer when it comes to marketing the high value, nutritious and delicious product they produce.

State issues were also discussed, including needed reforms to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Law. Each participant also gave a fast view of the long dairy situation.

“The average dairy farmer we serve is under 150 cows, and our feed mill has 107 years in the business. We’ve seen a lot, but nothing as bad as this,” said Karl Sensenig. “We are greatly concerned about what is the future for the generations to come in our business and on the farms. We have become their bank. The situation is beyond dire, and I’m afraid we haven’t begun to see the true loss of farms. Even if the price gets a little better, many are so far gone that there’s no way out.”

Katie Sattazahn also questioned the future. She is integral to the farm operated by her husband and his brother, and she works off the farm. They upgraded their facility three years ago, never expecting a downturn of this duration and magnitude.

“The biggest thing is, we are supposed to be glad when we have a breakeven year, but that has to change. As dairy farmers, we need to be profitable to put something back into our operations,” she said. “Every dollar we spend is spent locally. Our farms provide open space and benefits for the environment, and the money we spend in our business helps the economy.”

With two young children, Sattazahn says, “If it stays the way it is, why would we encourage them to do this?”

Bonnie Wenger explained the conditions she sees in the community of dairy farmers. She explained to lawmakers the added difficulty of this year’s prevented plantings, a struggle that will get worse this fall in terms of feeding cows.

Byler also talked about the dire situation in her county. “The dairy farms support our communities. They support other businesses and bring in revenues for our school districts,” she said. “What will be left for our small rural communities?”

On the school front, she showed examples of the marketing foodservice directors see, pushing them away from animal protein. This included visuals from Fuel Up To Play 60 and its focus on fat-free and low-fat. She wonders why they can’t just talk about milk, why they have to pound home the fat-free, low-fat with every caption, every sentence, over and over. She has trouble seeing the value in it from the side of the dairy farmer or the school program.

Lawmakers and staff were taking notes, writing in the margins and circling things on the outline provided. By the end of the session, Sen. Argall said, “You’ve created a lot of work for us.”

Congressman Meuser noted this is now an even higher priority for him.

Sen. Martin said this is on the Pennsylvania Assembly’s radar, and he mentioned a package of bills coming that are “just a start.” He mentioned the dairy commission being put together to advise the legislature on dairy. 

They reminded the group to urge others to attend the rally on June 18 at 11:00 a.m. at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg to support the federal dairy bills on whole milk in schools and mislabeling of non-dairy beverages. The media will be there, and this is a chance to get the public involvement that is necessary.

Here is another link to 8 ways you can help. (Swipe to read second page of this pdf).

-30-

Truth and thoughts: A tragedy the government won’t accept

As a mother and a grandmother, Sherry Bunting has followed childhood nutrition legislation and government guidelines for 25 years. She is pictured here recently with Bella, one of her five grandchildren.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine Cover Commentary, April 26, 2019

I have been following and writing about the nutrition exploits of the National School Lunch Program since 1994. At that time, my children were in school, and I served as an elected director of the Eastern Lancaster County School Board.

Today, I continue the fight because I see the effects. I am a grandmother. I have been on this soapbox whether milk prices are high or low, though some say I’m just conjuring up devisive issue because of low milk prices.

My track record on this issue is 25-years-long-and-solid.

The problem started surfacing in the mid-90s when the low-fat / high-carb nutrition dogma became firmly entrenched, and big food brands were pushing low-fat versions that contained – you guessed it – more sugar and concentrated high fructose corn syrup.

The situation became progressively worse through the 2000’s as the government began tightening its vice-grip — as one foodservice director at the time put it — “forcing us to serve the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet to growing kids.”

Foodservice directors who piloted the USDA software for the nutrient standard menu planning said it would be an obesity disaster in the making. They correctly noted that when fat is removed from diets, carbs and sweetener take its place.

There are three things that give food calories for sustaining life: Fat, carbs and protein. There are two calorie-providing elements that give food its flavor: Sugar and fat.

By excessively reducing fat, the flavor of the meals and the milk is reduced, and children are pushed toward more sugar and less feelings of fullness.

By removing whole milk, real butter, real cheese, real beef, we now have 10-year-olds with ‘hunger pangs during math class.’ Sen. Stabenow recognized this, but she doesn’t grasp why. She sees the solution as more of the same: Just find ways to get more kids enrolled to eat even less of what’s good for them.

The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act made “historic changes” alright. Bad ones. It dealt our nation’s dairy farmers and children the final blow. It limited the calories of the total meal, tightened the saturated fat limits, and required only fat-free and 1% milk or fat-free flavored milk be served along with offerings of fruit juice and water. It also increased the carb counts.

What our government leaders and USDA nutrition elite bureaucracy think is progress is actually regression. Sen. Stabenow says ‘don’t go backwards.’ But our children are already going backwards as nutrient dense foods are limited.

I find it amazing that our political leaders can sit in committee examining childhood nutrition programs costing $30 billion in reauthorization and talk about the nutritional crisis our nation is facing that affects our national security and yet claim that the 2010 Act brought “progress”, saying “don’t backtrack”.

In essence, our leaders believe the problem is not enough kids are enrolled in the programs that they have ruined!

Instead of hiring market research firms to find out how to get more participation, change the program. Apply some logic.

The School Lunch and later breakfast programs began when the military in the 1940s saw malnutrition as a national security issue among recruits. At that time, the biggest thing the school lunch program did was to make sure children received whole milk, real butter, real cheese, real beef, real food. And yes, we ate our vegetables, they had real butter or cheese on them!

We sailed along until Dr. Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota, and his now heavily-challenged hypothesis, became the darling of the American Heart Association. By the 1980s, it was intrenched. Other rigorous science was bullied and buried.

By the 1990s, school lunch rules became more intrusive in reducing fat and increasing carbs.

By the 2000s, schools had to submit their menus for approval or run them through USDA software for percent-of-calories-from-fat analysis. School foodservice directors admitted to serving more dessert to replace the calories lost from nutrient-dense fats and proteins, but they used applesauce, more sugar and high fructose corn syrup — instead of butter and eggs — to make those cakes, cookies and brownies.

In 2010, the government limited the lunch calories, tightened the saturated fat limits, and outright forbade serving 2% or whole milk in schools.

Don’t our leaders see that we keep making a bad situation worse because we can’t admit that it’s time to backtrack?

Now our military says recruits are too obese to serve. We are facing a new national security threat. This is no joke.

When will our nation have a full airing of the science? When will we backtrack from a hypothesis disproven?

Since the 1990s — and even moreso since 2010 — our children are served increasingly less of less, and we have a USDA and a Congress that want to stay on this road and just make sure more of us travel it. In fact, while USDA representatives told Congress last week that they don’t want schools and states to have to be ‘food police’, they admitted they look at ‘competing foods’ to see that kids aren’t leaving the lunch line to eat or drink something else on campus.

Pennsylvania and other states will not allow various FFA groups to put in whole milk vending machines and manage them as a fundraiser, or they must be locked during school hours in order not to “compete” with what government is literally forcing down our children’s throats, or into the trash can.

If the federal government won’t do what’s right, then get out of the way and let our communities decide how to feed our children. Stop ruling from the ivory tower that “looks and listens” but fails to act. Change the Guidelines. Face it. Do it. Now, before it’s too late.

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

‘Milk Baleboards’ are a ‘thing’, with a website!

Producers unite to send clear message to policymakers and consumers, website takes it to the next level.

Nelson Troutman (above) is a dairy farmer. He has made 20 Milk Baleboards and offers these DIY Tips with illustrations at the end of this story.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019

RICHLAND, Pa. — Nelson Troutman has been making the ‘Milk Baleboards’ since January. The Berks/Lebanon County dairy farmer came up with the idea after the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board listening session in December.

“It’s very important that the bales all have the same message: ‘Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT-FREE.’ Don’t try to get funny with it. You could take the ‘local’ off and just focus on the ‘whole milk,’ but mainly to have impact, we want the bales to have the same message,” he said while painting bales in his shop during my visit last Saturday morning to the farm where he and his wife Mary live and which is now rented to a young couple for their dairy herd.

He still farms the land he has lived on his entire life, and he makes the feed for that herd and his son’s herd nearby. (In fact his daughter in law Renee wrote about whole milk recently, with a historical twist!)

Nelson has made 20 Milk Baleboards so far (check out his DIY tips at the end of this story). And he has seen new ones pop up from others following suit.

He has had 10 phone calls from fellow farmers as far away as New York, and has talked to so many more at meetings — out and about. He tells them: “Put a bale out… unless you are satisfied with your milk price.”

Did he think it would take off like it has? “No I didn’t,” he says. But he’s glad to see others joining in and hopes to see it catch on even more.

Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia has been doing all he can to get other agribusinesses to put them out. In addition to Morrissey Insurance having one on their property along Rte 272 north of Ephrata, the Milk Baleboards are popping up along other main routes like 23, 322, and 422, to name a few.

“Our advertising checkoff dollars just didn’t seem to be doing a very good job these past 10 years. They have been promoting fat free and low-fat 1% milk and the fat free yogurt — not much whole milk,” Nelson relates.

“After the listening session with the PMMB, some of us were talking. We thought it was time to do something different, something like letting consumers know whole milk is 97% fat free,” he said further. “We didn’t come up with a plan that day. We were thinking about a billboard, but that was far too expensive. We thought about portable signs.”

Then over the weekend after that December meeting, he looked around. “I thought to myself that I already have the perfect thing: A wrapped hay bale! So, I painted one. I set it in the pasture at our crossroad. We farmers have silos, wagons, barns and sheds we can paint signs on.”

Lots of feedback has come in, and it seemed no one knew whole milk was 97% fat free. Some said “why are we drinking 2% milk, when whole milk tastes so much better?”

Nelson observes that young and older people said they never thought about how much fat or nutrition is in milk. “It seems so sad how people are misled by our checkoff dollars, our doctors and medical people — and our federal dietary guidelines committee.”

He admits that people are easily confused. To be sure, the bales are attracting attention, leading to questions.

While it started out as a way to send a clear and unified message to consumers and especially policymakers, Nelson said the information is so surprising to people that it offers educational opportunities.

That’s why R&J Dairy Consulting invited Nelson and Bernie to a meeting of dairy farmers last Friday to see what could be done to use this teachable moment.

The group decided to purchase a website domain — 97MILK.com, and direct people there to learn more: What is whole milk? How does it compare? What is Real Milk, Local Milk?

The website can help unite these efforts, and bring additional excitement to the project. For example, at the meeting organized by R&J Consulting, their marketing manager Jackie Behr said when she asked peers what questions they have about milk, she ended up with a whole list.

“Let’s use this opportunity to educate consumers and help them make a good choice,” she said. The group decided to start out with key simple answers to frequent questions. Many businesses and people are pulling together in various ways that it is impossible to name them all here. That will come in a future Milk Baleboard update.

Jackie at R&J, with some help from others, got the website 97milk.com up and running within seven days. This includes a facebook page @97Milk, so check it all out!

Want to make a Milk Baleboard? Here are Nelson’s DIY tips:


1) Keep the message the same: Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT FREE (or now that there is a website, omit ‘Drink’ on a Round Bale and put the website 97MILK.com top or bottom.)

2) Get the right paint! Rustoleum Ultra Cover 2X paint and primer.

3) Use the small foam brushes and buy extra. This paint doesn’t wash out, so they can’t be re-used. Foam brushes can be turned for thick or thin letters.

4) Wear gloves, this paint will be with you a while if you don’t.

5) Before painting, sketch out a guide with a pen.

6) 97% is the largest and in making the percent-sign, put the circles parallel to each other and the slanted line in between to keep it straight.

7) Find the middle and that’s where the “I” in Milk goes, then build on that.

8) Letters are placed every 2.5 inches for “Local Whole,” and adjust others accordingly.

9) Spray paint onto foam brush, then apply to bale in strokes from the bottom to the top of each letter.

10) Alternate between colors (Blue/Red or Black/Red).

11) Make the letters broader and thicker for the word MILK, in all capital letters.

12) Follow your guide and use paint to even things out as you go.

13) Paint will dry faster and better, with fewer runs (in winter) if painting in sunshine or with a heater running in the shop.

14) Sit them on a pallet for better visibility on property you have along roads and set back from intersections.

Even in worst of times, milk stayed true

Let’s work to put some pressure on our elected representatives to stop this immoral travesty of sub-par nutrition to our children. — Renee Troutman

This letter, which ran on the cover of Farmshine, February 15, 2019, is republished here with permission.

By Renee Troutman, Myerstown, Pennsylvania

Recently in my children’s history lessons about World War I we were learning specifically about war efforts on the home front to ration and save food so there would be enough for our soldiers and European countries ravaged by war. Americans were asked to save on wheat, meat, fats, and sugar. They selflessly sacrificed things like beef, pork, and candy. They ate more vegetables and used fruit preserves to sweeten their desserts. Not a crumb of bread was wasted.

In each history lesson we also read some form of original history, whether it be a speech, newspaper article, songs, or letters. This time we read excerpts from a popular 1918 publication called Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them that gave recipes and tips to help with the rationing efforts. There was a section about using milk and I thought it was very interesting. Here’s what it says:

“To Save Milk: Use it all. Buy whole milk and let the cream rise. Use this cream, and you secure your milk without cost. Economize on milk and cream except for children. The children must have milk whole. Serve buttermilk. Serve cottage cheese regularly in varying forms. It is especially nutritious. Use cheese generally.”

Is anyone else as intrigued as I am that even during times when rationing food was a necessity, the thought of giving remnants of milk to children wasn’t even a consideration? Conventional wisdom and common sense knew that children going through the most critical growth periods of their lives needed whole milk for proper development. In no way was anyone going to suggest that children be deprived of nutritious, dietary fat. Many vitamins in milk are fat soluble and calcium absorption is aided with the fat so giving children anything less made that nutrition null and void. Nobody was going to do that to children and nobody did.

But yet, 100 years later, while we’re supposedly drowning in surplus milk, here we are giving our children nutritional remnants of milk because the government tells us to. Whole milk has somehow been villainized even though milk has been heralded as a sacred nutritional staple for millennia. Our national security is now being compromised as we lose farms daily to financial ruin as milk drinkers are dismayed at the blah of skim milk. And, to add insult to injury, farmers are shooting themselves in their own foot as promotion money forcibly taxed off of their meager milk checks is used to push this erroneous and devastating no-fat/low-fat message.

Our children deserve so much better. We produce an abundance of wholesome, nutritious, and delicious milk in this country. I’d really like to know why we are mandated by the government to only give ourselves measly remnants. The tide needs to turn, and fortunately, I think it is.

Let’s work to put some pressure on our elected representatives to stop this immoral travesty of sub-par nutrition to our children. Call your U.S. Congressman to make HR 832 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 to happen and fast. Do whatever you can yourself to educate the public about the truth and goodness of whole milk and let’s make the consumers we provide for confident and excited about using our whole product again and not just the measly remnants of it. 

-30- 

‘Consumers are smarter than us, they are buying more fat.’

Covington more optimistic for dairy in 2019

(Above) Calvin Covington is the retired CEO of Southeast Milk, Inc. and formerly with American Jersey Cattle Association and National All Jersey. He has published many articles in Hoards Dairyman and other publications and is respected for his insights on milk marketing. Covington came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from his home in North Carolina on Jan. 29 to talk about dairy markets — from the Northeast perspective — at the R&J Dairy Consulting winter dairy meeting. The previous week, Covington spoke at the Georgia Dairy Conference in Savannah, giving the Southeast outlook and perspective there. He also shared with producers that butterfat is driving milk check value because consumers are smart, they are choosing whole milk, butter and full-fat natural cheeses. He urged producers to hold their industry organizations accountable on selling and promoting fat and flavor. He encouraged farmers to focus on pounds of components to improve milk prices at the farm level.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, February 1, 2019

EAST EARL, Pa. — Bringing a bit of good news, along with good understanding, of dairy markets, Calvin Covington kicked off R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter dairy seminar Tuesday (Jan. 29) talking about what needs to happen for milk prices to improve.

He had the full attention of the 300 dairy producers who gathered at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl for the meeting, where they learned that Covington anticipates 2019 Federal Order blend prices in the Northeast to improve by $1.00 to $1.50 in 2019 compared with 2018.

“But it’s going to be a walk, not a run. they will move up gradually,” he said. “Last year, I was pessimistic. This year, I am a lot more optimistic.”

Covington also talked about the “4 C’s” that need tochange as the major factors to improve farm level milk prices: Consumption, Cow numbers, Components and Cooperation.

“The most important is consumption,” said Covington. “What is the consumer telling us?”

He showed a graph of how overall dairy consumption has steadily increased on a solids basis from 2000 though 2018, and he displayed a chart (above) showing that the consumer is telling us they want the milkfat — that it’s the solids in the milk — the bufferfat and protein — that give milk value.

“Exports are growing. That’s where most of our growth in demand has been coming from… but we export commodities — milk powder, whey, lactose,” he said. “We export very little butter and cheese.”

While he said exports are of course important to the milk check, he emphasized the need to focus on domestic demand, which has been overlooked and “presents real opportunity. What can we do to lift domestic demand and make that happen?”

In a word, said Covington: “Milkfat. That’s number one. We in the dairy industry need to talk about milkfat and not hide behind it not wanting things to change. Consumers are a whole lot smarter than we are. They are figuring it out. They are buying more fat… and we need to sell thatt.”

He said that the average fat content of all types of fluid milk sales from fat-free to whole milk — nationwide — is 2%.

“If that moved up by just 1/4 to 1/2 of 1 percent, the difference in farmer milk checks would be substantial. Fluid milk sales have been declining (in total), but whole milk sales are up three years in a row,” Covington explained.

“Consumers want that taste, and we’re not talking about it.”

He also pointed out how per capita butter consumption is at its highest point in over 10 years.

“That’s big, and that’s why the butterfat price in your milk check is double the protein price,” said Covington, explaining that in addition to butter, natural cheeses are one-third fat, that we forget about.

“Natural cheese consumption is higher, but it’s the processed cheeses, that contain less fat, that are moving lower,” he said.

He noted that for many years, the research said fat is bad for us.

“Now smart people are showing this to be false and we have books and articles about how butter, cheese and whole milk are good for us.”

Covington noted that what the industry needs to focus on is giving consumers more of what they want and not being afraid to “sell more fat. That will up your milk price,” he pointed out, encouraging producers to focus on pounds of components because this is the majority of how their milk price is determined.

He shared a story about meeting Queen Elizabeth in England with one of the oldest Jersey herds in the world. Those cows produce more than 6% fat, and that’s what she drinks and she’s 92 years old.

He also observed that the Queen knows as much about cows and agriculture as about anyone he’s met.

Look for more highlights and details from Covington’s fascinating discussions and his 2019 market outlook for the Northeast and the Southeast in a future Farmshine.

-30-