Oct. 26 2023 10:30 AM

Building trust with students and food service leaders helps secure dairy’s place on school menus.

“New York City is only three hours away, but it’s a whole different world,” said dairy farmer Nate Chittenden of Dutch Hollow Farm in Schodack Landing, N.Y.

To help bridge that gap, and to help build understanding and trust in dairy, American Dairy Association North East asked Chittenden to host a tour for more than 50 high school students and teachers from five Brooklyn schools earlier this month in honor of National Farm-to-School Month. New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball, Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Trodden, and other government officials also joined the group.

“New York City is the largest school district in the country with more than a million students, and it’s critical that we help secure dairy’s place in its school meals, especially with so many other groups vying for room on the menu,” said ADA North East CEO John Chrisman. “Developing and maintaining strong relationships with school food service decision-makers is vital to ensuring students have access to the essential nutrients that dairy can provide for their success.”

Nate Chittenden leads high school students around his family’s Dutch Hollow Farm.

More than ever, consumers, especially Gen Z (ages 11 to 26), are questioning where their food comes from and whether it’s sustainably produced. There’s no better way to show them than to actually show them how milk is produced, which is another reason why this tour was so important.

“Kids are smart, and they really want to know how their food is produced,” said ADA North East President Audrey Donahoe from Clayville, N.Y., who joined the group at Dutch Hollow. She is a staunch advocate for school meals packed with dairy to give students the best chance to succeed. “Giving them this opportunity to make the connection with where milk comes from will go a long way in building trust in our industry and hopefully develop life-long milk drinkers.”

“It also helps people understand their food is a lot more local than they realize,” added Chittenden, noting this is often a concern for consumers.

That’s why ADA North East supports the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ “New York Thursdays” program. This statewide initiative raises the availability of locally sourced foods like milk and dairy for school meals. Chittenden and his niece, Emily, showed their visitors how technology and modern science are used on dairy farms. They walked through the milking parlor, freestall barns, calf barns, and the feed storage area, showcasing environmental and animal care practices, farm technology, sustainable food production, and safety.

“It’s easy for people to go on the internet and find quick answers, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right answers,” Chittenden said, further emphasizing the need for farmers to be transparent in how they’re producing food.

To further expand the students’ experience at Dutch Hollow, ADA North East board member Kristine Brock and her daughter Val Lavigne of Schaghticoke, N.Y., who own a catering business and a food truck called The Farmers Feed Bunk, provided the students’ lunch. They offered hot chocolate and provided chicken and cheese quesadillas, sweet potato fries, apples, white and chocolate milk, and water.

“It was a mutally beneficial day for all involved, and an excellent way to showcase how much dairy farmers care about their animals, environment and the communities who enjoy their fresh, wholesome products,” said Donahoe.

To learn more about American Dairy Association North East school nutrition programs, click here.

Jean Kummer

Jean Kummer is the industry communications specialist for American Dairy Association North East.