Creating Future Dairy Champions

  • 5 min read August 13, 2018
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

Note: From time to time, I will invite other farmers to share their leadership perspectives and experiences to provide a broader and first-hand look at the Checkoff programs and organizations that are helping to build demand and trust for dairy on behalf of farmers. The following “guest” blog is from Audrey Donahoe who is currently serving as chair of the National Dairy Council.

As always, welcome your thoughts and feedback for future blogs at

Creating Future Dairy Champions
I am truly enjoying my new leadership role for dairy producers as National Dairy Council Chair. What an exciting year it has been so far. I recently attended three events back to back that I want to share with my fellow farmers. 

I started out with the School Nutrition Association Annual Conference. The Conference is a pack-filled week of sessions, networking and exhibits. National Dairy Council has a booth in the exhibit hall for the conference.

Dairy Farmer Audrey Donahoe at School Nutrition Association Conference

We held an interactive experience as soon as participants entered the booth. While I was asking “true or false” questions about what we do as farmers, I was also engaging school nutrition experts in what we do every day on our farms and why we are so proud of producing such a nutritious, delicious and safe product. 

My biggest satisfaction after working in the booth was that I didn’t get any negative questions or comments! NDC has put farmers on a pedestal! I can’t think of any other way to describe the connections and great rapport our staff has developed with some highly influential and decision-making leaders for school nutrition. 

I also attended some great SNA sessions and one that really sticks out was a presentation by a very well-known Chef Jeff Henderson. What a moving and inspirational life story he shared and had us all in tears at one point! On his way to the exhibit hall, to sign autographs, he stopped at the NDC booth. He expressed interest in what we do and wants to be a part of our mission. This is one of many reasons it is so important to continue to be at these events, to make these connections and contacts! 

I then attended the Nourish to Flourish event sponsored by NDC and The Urban School Food Alliance. WOW again! It is a group of key leaders that are brought together with the same goal of making children’s Health and Nutrition our #1 priority.

We were divided into working groups and each had a task of making our children’s health and nutrition priorities happen all over the country. I was delighted to be in a group that is working on “Good Food”. Just as important as providing the nutritious food to children, it can be delicious as well! We are all in favor of getting as much dairy into these kids diets as we can because we have that perfect delicious and nutritious product to offer!
We had some of our Fuel Up To Play 60 Ambassadors attend and speak at the meeting and as always, they were the highlight of the meeting. These young leaders of today will be our leaders of tomorrow. We have positioned ourselves to be a big part of their learning years and have provided them with a very important fact-filled knowledge base of what we do as farmers and the perfect product we produce. 

As I listened to the ambassadors speak I looked around the room at all of the awe-filled faces listening to these kids and thought to myself, these kids have placed our program at a success level that many strive to achieve in youth programs. 

Speaking of successful programs that leads me to my last event of the whirlwind travel I did in 10 days! What a great way to end the three back-to-back events by attending the FUTP60 Summit 2018. I attended the third Summit in 2012. I was super excited because I knew it was a fun and a valuable program for us as farmers. There were 215 student leaders from 46 states in attendance. The youth are just amazing, very smart and so driven.

Fuel Up To Play 60 Panel with Dairy Farmers

Just when I thought the summit couldn’t be any better I was pleasantly surprised by the changes in the last six years that were so well received and absolutely brilliant on the part of our staff. There were breakout groups and each group attended a station that had farmers talk about the different careers in agriculture. I could see the kids soaking in all the information we shared about our industry and the REAL story of how we run our farms.  The information really resonated with these youth leaders! 

We also had cooking contests and I had the privilege of judging one, the smoothie contest. They all used dairy products and I even heard from groups that dairy just makes it taste better! Home run on that one! 

I was also a judge for $1000.00 grants the kids could take back to their schools and use in a project they developed. I was one of three judges that had to pick 10 winners out of 26 presenters and it was tough! Forty ambassadors went home with a grant to implement within their schools and the others were encouraged to try again and apply online. 

Finally, the football players were a huge hit for the youth and watching them interact with the kids was great. It provides a testimony to the importance of our continued partnership with the NFL. They are truly there for the good of kids and dedicated to the success of our partnership.
The Summit certainly was a great ending to my three back-to-back experiences! On a side note I have the most supportive and awesome family I could ever ask for, when I returned home the farm, cows and house looked great. They looked great too! They support what I do on behalf of farmers as much as I appreciate the support the farmers have given me.

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