Dairy Communicators: Champions of Dairy Promotion

Since 1979, MMPA Dairy Communicators (DC) have been spreading the word about the goodness and benefits of dairy in the diet and now nearly forty years later, dairy promotion continues with the pioneers in dairy promotion history. With one basic desire: to educate the public with the real story of where their milk comes from, DCs have been reaching out in various ways to promote their product locally.

In 2009, the very first dairy to host a Breakfast on the Farm event was held at an MMPA member dairy farm in central Michigan. Patti Jandernoa and her husband, Tony, own Dutch Meadows Dairy along with their son Kyle and his wife MacKenzie.  The Jandernoas threw open the farm gate to hundreds of visitors as they hosted Michigan State University’s Breakfast on the Farm event where curious consumers were escorted from corner to corner of the farm.

“With the general public becoming further and further removed from agriculture, it’s important for us to tell our story,” said Jandernoa.

Jodi Hill was born and raised where MMPA was birthed over 100 years ago, Livingston County. This year she was recognized for twenty years of promotion as a DC. Jodi is in partnership with her brother on their multi-generational family farm and her favorite place to promote dairy is at the Fowlerville Fair where she grew up showing cattle in 4-H. “I love working with kids, for me that’s where the fun is.”

Hill also helps out with Michigan Farm Bureau’s Rural Education Day in addition to hosting tours on their forty-cow dairy. Through the years, she has also supplied dairy treats for her kids sporting events making sure they realize not only how good dairy is in their diet, but how delicious it is.

“When it comes to milk in the schools, the kids just don’t like the taste of the low-fat milk and I think we should come up with a happy medium between the taste and the sugar content in the milk,” she continued. “For some kids, school is the only place they have milk at a meal.”

With twenty years of promotion under her belt, Hill’s conviction is clear,

“I feel it’s really, really important for people to have that connection between the farm and their food.”

Recognized for fifteen years as a DC, Sally Bivens ventured into the dairy business when she married her husband, Dave, 37 years ago.  Three kids and ten grandkids later, Sally and Dave continue to run LaDine Farms in Barry County where they milk approximately 140 cows and farm 500 acres.

Bivens has a passion to share their love for dairy farming and letting people know it’s more than just a job, “It’s our family heritage to be good stewards of all that God has blessed our family with,” she said.  “Too many people have never been on a farm before and they are getting the wrong message about farming.”

Barry County Ag Awareness Day has been on Biven’s slate for twelve years straight and is one of her favorite places to promote agriculture. Third graders from around the county converge on Ag Awareness Day where Sally sets up a dairy station complete with a live calf, milking equipment and bags to give away full of milk promotion goodies supplied by United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM). She said the kids love to pet the calf while asking various questions about the farm.

MMPA Board of Director Gertie van den Goor feels very strongly about being a Dairy Communicator, “If I can educate one person at a time, it is so worth it. Personal contact still goes a long way in my book,” she explained.

“It is nice to share things on social media but nothing beats it when you can have a face to face conversation or even better have them out at the farm.”

Hosting a grandfather and his grandchildren on their Sanilac County farm made a big impression on van den Goor. This grandfather showed up with kids ranging in age from Kindergarten to high school from all parts of the country.  Each summer they spend a week at their grandparent’s home and that afternoon they spent it at Goma Dairy learning about the farm and asking all kinds of questions. “After they got home the grandfather had all of them write a thank you card and they had to share what they liked the best or what they learned while at our farm,” she recalled.

Goma Dairy was established in 1999 by van den Goor and her husband, Geert, after the couple and their family moved to Michigan from the Netherlands.

van den Goor likes to have the entire farm get involved in promotion each year as they enter a float in the local parade in Marlette. Gertie said, “I have a lot of fun making a float and it gives our employees a chance to be proud of their job when they are out there handing out the jugs of milk.”

As MMPA’s Dairy Communicator program creeps up on the forty-year mark they can celebrate four decades of passionate promotion by champions on the goodness of milk from farm to fridge.

–Melissa Hart

This article originally appeared in the June issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.