Ag commissioner kicks off Dairy Education Days

The first of several events celebrating June as Dairy Month in New York State

Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball talked to second-graders about how milk is produced in New York and why milk is important in our diets. (Courtesy Photo)

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball kicked off Dairy Education Days at Memorial Park Elementary School in Waterville, Oneida County.  Dairy Education Days is the first of several events celebrating June as Dairy Month in New York State.  The Commissioner talked to second-graders about how milk is produced in New York and why milk is important in our diets. The lesson followed the Waterville Central School District’s celebration of the Mohawk Valley Farm-to-School initiative and New York Food Day, which brought a 100% New York lunch, featuring New York milk and yogurt, to students across 18 districts in the region.

Over the next several weeks, nearly two dozen Department employees will bring dairy lessons to additional elementary schools across the State. Department staff, including Division of Milk Control inspectors, will be visiting local elementary schools in the Western New York, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Capital Region, Hudson Valley and New York City regions to help educate New York’s school children about New York’s dairy farmers, about the various types of dairy products produced in New York State, and about the nutritional benefits of consuming dairy products. Commissioner Ball said, “As we celebrate and promote dairy this month, and year-round, it is so important to reach our young people.  We want our school children to understand where their milk and dairy products come from and instill in them an early appreciation of the benefits of consuming New York products and of our farmers who work hard to provide us these delicious and nutritious products.  I really enjoyed talking to the second-grade class in Waterville and am inspired by the enthusiasm of our team to visit dozens of school districts across the State and help tell the great story of our dairy industry in New York.”

Educational materials for the schools and students, including fun giveaways, were provided by the American Dairy Association North East.  The New York State Future Farmers of America (FFA) is helping to organize the school visits.

Rick Naczi, CEO, American Dairy Association North East, said, “New York State’s dairy farmers work hard every day to produce delicious and nutritious milk. We’re pleased to support efforts that help kids understand that their milk comes from a good place and that dairy products—like milk, cheese and yogurt—are an important part of a healthy diet.”

Derek Hill, New York FFA Director, said, “New York FFA is honored to support the Department of Agriculture and Markets in its efforts to promote the dairy industry through the education of our youth. Helping the next generation to understand the importance of the dairy industry in our State and how they can get products locally is vital to the future success of the industry. Helping to develop an agriculturally literate society is the foundation for agricultural education and FFA. The dairy industry represents a major sector of the agricultural economy that is paramount to our State’s food and fiber system. We hope that everyone will show their support for the dairy industry during the month of June, and for the entire year.”

The largest sector of the agricultural industry, New York’s dairy industry is a critical component of the State’s economy and to the health and well-being of the State’s communities.  New York State is home to nearly 5,000 dairy farms with 623,000 cows, producing 14.9 billion pounds of milk.  The average dairy farm has 139 cows.  New York ranks third in the production of milk, and is first in the nation in the production of other dairy products such as yogurt, cream cheese, and cottage cheese.

Dairy Education Days builds on the State’s participation in Agricultural Literacy Week.  Agricultural Literacy Week, organized by New York Agriculture in the Classroom (NYAITC), is a statewide effort to educate students about the importance of agriculture and opportunities for careers in the industry.  In March of this year, Commissioner Ball and State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, along with more than 30 employees from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, were proud to participate in the 14th annual weeklong celebration.

To advance the mission of agricultural education, the State committed a record $3.6 million in the 2017-18 State Budget for ag education programs, including a state-of-the-art test kitchen and food science lab.  The funding is also being used to expand NYAITC, double the number of certified agricultural educators, and add 100 New York Future Farmers of America (NY FFA) chapters across the State—three goals outlined in Governor Cuomo’s 2017 State of the State address.