Checkoff Shifts Schools Strategy To Meet New Demands

  • 3 min read August 7, 2023

Scott Wallin

Transition with NFL allows for broader partnership impact

ROSEMONT, IL – The dairy checkoff marked its 13th year of impact through Fuel Up to Play 60 – a school wellness program in partnership with the NFL – while preparing an evolved strategy that will bring more partners together to support dairy’s role in youth wellness and improve education of the contributions of America’s dairy farmers.

Beginning this school year, the checkoff will shift to the “Fuel Up” platform with a goal of bringing new and diverse partners together to expand opportunities to increase access to dairy with other nutritious foods and engage youth around healthy eating and food production.

With this change, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) is transitioning from a partnership with the NFL to a no-cost collaboration, which paves the way to co-create programs that support youth wellness. In addition, as students’ food choices and understanding of nutrition is increasingly impacted by factors outside the school building, Fuel Up will allow for a more integrated approach to engaging youth and their parents.

“This is our opportunity to reinforce dairy’s support for greater access to nutrition in cafeterias and classrooms but do it in new and more effective ways,” said Barbara O’Brien, CEO and president of DMI. “Fuel Up to Play 60 helped secure the reputation and legacy of dairy farmers for being champions of youth wellness, but the school environment has changed dramatically the last few years. We need to think differently to protect farmers’ ability to deliver long-term value to children and in schools.”

Fuel Up will work with schools and partners to deliver solutions and resources that increase access to milk and other dairy products, expand meal participation and find ways to educate students on how nutrition plays an important role in physical wellness and academic achievement. The checkoff also is introducing learning resources, including dairy-focused STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum.

O’Brien said dairy’s strong place in schools is driven through the state and regional network, which has had longtime relationships with educators, administrators, school food service leaders and others.

“While milk’s nutrition is universal, schools are local and look different across the country, which is why relationships are so crucial,” O’Brien said. “Instead of working through a singular school program, we are building a multi-partner, more flexible model that allows farmers to connect with the next generation, whether it’s a big city district far from agriculture or a small rural one.”

Since its debut, Fuel Up to Play 60 grew its presence in more than 73,000 schools nationwide, reaching at least 40 million students. The program has inspired millions of participants to team with community leaders, parents, other educators and students to build strong school environments. The program often incorporated dairy farmers at school visits to help bridge the connection to the true source of food.

Pennsylvania dairy farmer and DMI Chair Marilyn Hershey was among the farmers who worked closely with the program but understands the need for a strategic shift.

“We talk a lot about evolving and modernizing the checkoff and this is one way we’re doing that,” Hershey said. “Fuel Up to Play 60 and our partnership with the NFL met the needs of thousands of schools nationwide for many years, however it’s important to recognize times have changed.

“A multi-partner approach through Fuel Up will better position us to meet the ever-changing needs of our communities, while ensuring we have the opportunity to build healthy schools and thriving kids.”

For information about the dairy checkoff, visit




About Dairy Management Inc.

Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI) is funded by America’s 28,000 dairy farmers, as well as dairy importers. Created to help increase sales and demand for dairy products, DMI and its related organizations work to increase demand for dairy through research, education and innovation, and to maintain confidence in dairy foods, farms and businesses. DMI manages National Dairy Council and the American Dairy Association, and founded the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.