Checkoff Helps ‘Discover Dairy’ Connect Schools With Our Farms

  • 3 min read August 26, 2022
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

The Discover Dairy program was inspired not by a dairy cow but rather a jaguar. In Africa.

The son of an executive with the Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania came home from school one day and told his mother how his classroom had “adopted” an African jaguar as a way of learning more about the animal.

Mom’s reasoning was that if her son’s class could adopt a jaguar, couldn’t it do the same for a dairy cow?

Thus, the Adopt A Cow program was launched in 2011 with partnership support from American Dairy Association North East as a way of bridging the ever-widening gap between kids and our farms.

Little could anyone have imagined then where the program would evolve to today. As Adopt A Cow made its way through Pennsylvania schools, the Foundation continued to share the Discover Dairy program with teachers, an interactive, multi-level lesson series that uses social studies concepts to show students where milk comes from and how dairy farms contribute to our world. The lessons incorporate Common CORE and STEM standards, and all materials are available to download at no cost to elementary and middle school teachers.

Best of all, Discover Dairy has a powerful dairy farmer component and upwards of 40 of my farming peers across the country are engaged with Adopt A Cow. The Foundation also makes about 70 grants available for teachers to take their classroom to a dairy for a richer in-person connection to where food truly originates.

Like wildfire, word of these programs’ success began spreading and the power of our local checkoff organizations soon entered the scene. Thankfully, the Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania was more than willing to take its show on the road and this work stretches beyond my Pennsylvania borders.

Today, in addition to American Dairy Association North East, the Foundation has partnerships with:

  • American Dairy Association Indiana
  • Midwest Dairy
  • The Dairy Alliance
  • Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin
  • Dairy Management West
  • New England Dairy
  • Dairy Farmers of Washington
  • American Dairy Association Mideast
  • Florida Dairy Farmers
  • United Dairy Industry of Michigan
  • Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council

This extension has allowed Discover Dairy to reach more than 11,000 educators across the United States who use these dairy-centric lesson plans. The flagship Adopt a Cow program has made its mark even further—impacting 800,000 students worldwide, from all 50 states and stretching into 45 countries. The Foundation team is committed to continue modernizing the content, so it holds appeal with today’s digitally savvy students and there is an app in the works.

I’ve long felt that it takes many different strategies to reach students across America. We have enjoyed a successful run with our Fuel Up to Play 60 program that is done in partnership with the NFL and is in 73,000 schools. Discover Dairy serves as a complementary effort to further blanket schools with a dairy presence.

Whatever the program, it takes partnerships and collaboration to succeed, particularly with children who are asking more questions about the source of the food they consume, while facing ever-growing mixed messages about the work we do on our farms every day.

It also takes the power of our state and regional checkoff staffs to carry this work forward and into their communities to help make sure the gap between our farms and the true source of nutritious dairy isn’t so distant.