I like to say when I joined National Dairy Council (NDC) 27 years ago, I came for the product, but I stayed for the people.
The people who top that list, of course, are the dairy farm families who strongly believe in NDC’s mission to nourish Americans, especially children, and to be a leader in credible dairy nutrition research. The other part of my “people” equation is the talented leaders and staff around the nation and world who I have been fortunate to be surrounded by all these years.
As a dietitian and mother, I didn’t have to be sold on dairy’s nutritional benefits. Milk and other dairy products have been on my table since childhood; I served them to my children and it continues today as a grandparent.
My colleagues and I have never taken for granted the great foundation and legacy that we have had the honor of continuing. The start of dairy nutrition is credited to the groundbreaking research of Dr. E.V. McCollum of Johns Hopkins University who discovered vitamins A, D, and thiamin and made the scientific connection between food, including dairy foods, and good health. Two years later, dairy farmers and processors created NDC to begin a dairy education program.
Our century-long heritage ahead of many other organizations has made NDC a true leader in dairy nutrition, research, education and communications, resulting in work that is respected and has been admired and emulated.
NDC has more than survived the test of time, and it’s happened because we have stayed true to three core pillars, but always with a lens to the future:
- Nutrition research
- Quality nutrition education
NDC has been an unwavering champion of children’s health from 1918 when we implemented a long-range nutrition education program in schools. Our timeline is dotted with many examples of farmer-led efforts to enhance childhood health through dairy nutrition, but I want to look at the period beginning in 1983 when the checkoff was established from the Dairy Production Stabilization Act.
Around that time, NDC began outreach to physicians so they could provide dairy nutrition education to parents. You began seeing the power of our partnerships when we established one with the American School Food Service Association (now the School Nutrition Association) in 1993. This partnership paved the way for our School Milk Pilot Test to measure and discover ways to improve the appeal of fluid milk served at schools.
In 2002, we participated in the first Healthy Schools Summit to address the childhood obesity crisis. More partnerships followed with highly lauded organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association (now Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) and National Medical Association.
Other moments included chocolate milk reformulation work to create a product with lower calorie and sugar levels to support child nutrition without sacrificing taste, and the launching of Fuel Up to Play 60 in 2009 that is now in 73,000 schools and reaches 38 million kids. Two years later, dairy farmers founded GENYOUth to generate funding for children’s health and wellness efforts with Fuel Up to Play 60 as its core program and recipient.
Along the way, we committed ourselves to addressing our nation’s hunger crisis, which impacts 38 million Americans, including 12 million children, through a Feeding America partnership.
Recently, we have shifted to a more contemporary way to talk about dairy’s benefits. The days of leading with dairy’s “essential nutrients package” message has evolved to talking about its benefits related to immunity, calmness, energy and digestive health that has the backing of NDC-led research and resonates with younger generations.
We also understand today’s kids are further removed from the production of food, yet they have questions about what they consume and how it was produced. Fortunately, farmers have a powerful story to tell about “sustainable nutrition,” assuring this vital generation that dairy is produced in a way that’s good for the planet, animals and their communities.
When this change in consumer behavior began, we knew we had the best people possible to lead this discussion: our dairy farmers. There is rarely a conference or key meeting where we don’t have farmers at our side to share their story of sustainable food production. When people meet them, opinions change.
My retirement is coming up in February, and I have many fond memories of my 27 years representing dairy farmers and the nutritious foods they produce. Some of my favorite moments occurred while visiting their dairies or just sitting with them at a meeting to learn about their families and the work they do every day.
There simply is no way NDC could have succeeded for more than a century without their steadfast commitment to health and wellness, especially when it comes to our nation’s children. NDC is held up as a true leader among organizations around the country, and farmers can be proud of the vision and breakthroughs they have championed and the legacy that continues.
Earning farmers’ trust to share their story is the greatest gift the NDC staff could have ever received from them.