Why Students Matter to Dairy – and What the Checkoff is Doing About It

Tom Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer, Dairy Management Inc.

A positive experience with school milk can build lifelong consumers.

DMI checkoffs

Youth wellness is a longstanding priority for dairy farm families, and the dairy checkoff carries this commitment through as part of its daily mission. Increasing dairy consumption among kids inside and outside of school, while doing the right thing for society, is a great combination for America’s dairy farm families. It’s the meeting of dairy sales with social responsibility in mind, and social responsibility for dairy with sales in mind. That’s what the checkoff does to move more product and protect your freedom to operate.

Here’s the latest example of what your checkoff is doing for you, through our efforts to improve the school milk experience. Schools represent more than 50 million current and future consumers who have the option to consume milk and other dairy foods at least 180 days a year. A positive experience with school milk can build lifelong consumers.

That’s why national and local checkoff organizations partnered with the Urban School Food Alliance (representing seven of the largest school districts, some 5,000-plus schools and more than 3 million students) to host the first “Nourish to Flourish” School Meals Summit with the vision to create a better school meal experience.

Former USDA Secretary and now U.S. Dairy Export Council CEO Tom Vilsack summed up the summit: “There may be many meetings happening across the United States this week with many important people attending, but this summit is the most important one taking place.”

The Secretary wasn’t just talking about the impact of school meals for dairy, but also the foundational role it plays in helping ensure a healthy, vibrant future for the nation. As noted by the Secretary, food security impacts national security and our economy through healthcare costs and a healthy, stable workforce. Helping our next generation be healthier will help them become a more productive and competitive population that benefits all of us.

Strategies identified

This commitment is why nearly 250 stakeholders met to create a vision for the future, design plans and develop solutions for excellence in school meals. Participants included dairy farmers, school nutrition professionals, food manufacturers, teachers, parents, contract feeders, hunger and health professional organizations, chefs and students representing the checkoff’s in-school program, Fuel Up to Play 60. With milk and other dairy products as part of those school meals, dairy wins.

Members of this diverse group recognize they all play a critical role in finding solutions to the challenge. Attendees identified 15 areas of work, many that focus on the impact of milk and other dairy foods on school feeding programs. Specific strategies include:

  • Maximizing access and minimizing waste through sustainability-driven solutions
  • Increasing operational efficiencies
  • Addressing outdated school feeding policies to help modernize the milk and meal experience
  • Bringing technological solutionsto school meals

Attendees were particularly interested in the perspectives of the students in the room who want to have a say in the solutions to improve school feeding, rather than just being told what they should do.

Successful events such as this also help your checkoff attract more companies and organizations that want to be part of the youth wellness effort, which moves our own initiatives forward and multiplies the farmer investment.

The checkoff’s purpose and mission are clear – deliver an action plan that will bring sustainable, positive change to school meals. This challenge is similar to the work of the U.S. Sustainability Council that convened eight years ago … work that today has brought significant economic, environmental and societal benefits to dairy farmers and the U.S. dairy community. The plans developed by the summit also will help shape the work of the checkoff-led Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Childhood hunger in America is widespread – an estimated 15 million children live in families struggling to put enough food on the table, and more than 75 percent of educators report their students are coming to school hungry; yet childhood obesity remains an issue due to the lack of nutritious foods that children have access to daily.

The structure to help children exists at school, where each day 14 million students are eating breakfast, and 30 million are eating lunch; for some that may be the only meal they receive.

Dairy’s leadership role in these conversations keeps us in front of decision-makers as a part of the solution, while it helps keep milk in schools. A better dairy experience for your future consumers, and a better future for all dairy farmers.

Questions? Comments? Contact us at [email protected].

Tom GallagherEditor’s note:  Tom Gallagher is Chief Executive Officer of Dairy Management Inc.™, the domestic and international planning and management organization that works to increase sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. He is also chief executive officer of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy®, which was established by dairy farmer checkoff leaders to bring together the dairy industry to work together pre-competitively to address barriers and opportunities to foster innovation and increase sales. For more information on the dairy checkoff, visit www.dairy.org.