CEO Blog

Cynthia S. French's blog discussing important issues and the essential contributions of dairy farms to communities and the important nutritional and economic value dairy foods provide to consumers daily.

Hunger, Poverty and Despair Looks the Same Whether in Colorado or Africa

“A Glass of Milk”

Solutions for hunger are not easy especially in the face of CONFLICT and IGNORANCE and INDIFFERENCE toward the issue. Let us work with anyone who shares hunger goals, and for embracing any idea that can work, regardless of how unconventional it may seem at the time.

Dairy farmers for over 100 years have invested in childhood nutrition around the globe.

I’d like to relate a few stories I experienced while traveling in Africa, through Uganda and Rwanda, this summer and how it doesn’t matter where you are in the world……poverty, hunger and despair…. It all looks the same no matter if you’re in Colorado or Africa.

IMG_0088In July, I traveled with the Global Livingston Institution, a non-profit organization that works with students and community leaders to incubate innovative solutions to poverty. I will NEVER forget the people I met, the faces I saw, and the lessons I learned there.

We started in Uganda, where you can see a lush, GORGEOUS landscape coupled with EXTREME poverty in villages and cities. I was so HUMBLED and IMPRESSED by how the people worked so hard to “make do” with what they had. They just looked like they were living life – no cell phones…. Rather friends and family as they sat together talking and doing their daily chores. They are the most HUGGING people I’ve ever been around.

I was very curious about their food and access to food – Young men were riding bicycles carrying old-fashioned, large metal milk cans, bringing the milk directly from farm to market and to the milk plant – probably a 45 minute to two hour bicycle ride; and some by motorcycle.

We visited a young woman’s peanut butter business – the nutritional label she placed on her peanut butter jars read: “USES: – strengthens the gum, cures stomatitis, kills harmful bacteria; valuable in diabetes; useful in diarrhea especially chronic diarrhea; useful in nose bleeding and in cases of excessive bleeding during menstruation in women; and useful in treatment of hemophilia an inherited blood disease which causes hemorrhage.

We also saw very ELABORATE farmers markets with the most COLORFUL fruits and vegetables I was not familiar with. People were buzzing and happy around these markets.IMG_0336

I saw community water wells with women walking MILES hauling their 20 gallon containers on their shoulders or their heads. The water is definitely not in the quality standard that we are use to – it’s MUDDY and REDISH.

I spent a day on a dairy farm with Moses Byaruhanga and his family. It was an idyllic setting. Cows are milked by hand and they raise huge banana trees. However, Moses isn’t your typical dairy farmer – he’s also the Ugandan Presidential Senior Political Advisor. A friend of mine for a few years now, I asked Moses, what does the President of Uganda really want when it comes to dairy – he said, Cindy we want to go from one cow milk production to supplying milk commercially so that our people have more access to good nutrition.

His country is working so hard to grow its economy and take better care of its people. He fully understands the critical role dairy nutrition can play in improving the health of its citizens.

So when I asked him how he planned to deliver more dairy to the people, his answer was simple: “more cows.”

However, as any modern dairy farmer will tell you, it’s NOT THAT SIMPLE. More cows may be necessary, but that also means more inputs and more strain on natural resources.

American dairy farmers have met demand through more efficient farming and fewer cows. Like the wonderful and resourceful citizens of Uganda, we try to do more with what we have.

We use more efficient milking methods. We use more nutritious feed. We emphasize cow comfort and reduce stress on the animals. We monitor health closely and use advanced veterinary medicine when necessary. As a result, today’s dairies use 90 percent less cropland, produce 76 percent less manure, use 65 percent less water and 63 percent less carbon than a dairy did in 1944.

Today we’re trying to help Moses and his country achieve better results with their dairy farms. Earlier this month Moses visited Greeley and toured Diamond D Dairy in Longmont, where he met Jim and Kristie Docheff and discussed ways to improve dairy farming in his own country.  Thank you Jim and Kristie!

Africa children w CindyOther things we saw while I was in Africa included a visit to a real medicine doctor on a remote island, where he explained various ingredients he uses to cure many ailments. The Global Livingston Group worked with him so that he would refer certain illnesses to the town’s hospital – it seems he was telling parents to cut out the blisters on their children’s gums – as it was the devil – however, these children were dying of infections.

We also spent 7 hours trekking through the rainforest looking for gorillas – we were in the camp “Gorillas in the Mist” where Diane Fossie studied and it was the most PHYSICALLY CHALLENGING trek I’ve ever done in my life – straight up and straight down – no switchbacks.

In fact, we had to cross a rope bridge – a real rope bridge with creaky wooden slates …..OVER A CANYON – like what you’d see in an Indian Jones Movie – where only ONE PERSON at a time could cross the bridge.

So, TYPICAL to MY personality…when I face adversity, I decided I was going to “HAUL ASS” and get across the bridge the fastest way I could.

I also saw farming in these countries, done in small plots of ground but up on VERY STEEP slopes and the people farming the acreage HAND CARRIED their large farming tools up the steep mountain, farmed for a few hours and hiked back down.

But, you know…..nothing made a larger impact on me than visiting a grade school in Kampala. The school’s “Spiritual Committee” posted a letter on the wall – “author unknown” – this is a true story….. It’s titled   “A Glass of Milk” – true story and the story goes like this….

“One day, a poor boy, who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, he found he had only one thin dime left and he was HUNGRY. He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young girl opened the door. Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water. She thought he looked so hungry so she brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it slowly, and then asked, How much do I owe you?  “You don’t owe me anything,” she replied. “Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness.”

He said…”Then I thank you from my heart.”

Well, As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and Man was stronger also. He had been ready to give up and quit.

Many years later that same young girl became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease.

Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to her room.

Dressed in his doctor’s gown he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life.

From that day, he gave special attention to her case.

After a long struggle, the battle was won.

Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the REST OF HER LIFE to pay for it all. Finally, she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill. She read these words…..

“Paid in full with one glass of milk.” Signed— Dr. Howard Kelly.IMG_0040

Tears of joy flooded her eyes as her happy heart prayed: “Thank you God that your love has spread through human hearts and hands.”

There’s a saying which goes something like this: “Bread cast on the waters comes back to you. The good deed you do today may benefit you or someone you love at the least expected time. If you never see the deed again at least you will have made the world a better place.” And, after all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Dr. Howard Kelly was a distinguished physician who in 1895 founded the Johns Hopkins Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Johns Hopkins University. According to Dr. Kelly’s biographer, the doctor was on a walking trip, not through Africa, rather, northern Pennsylvania as a young boy, when he stopped by a farm house very hungry, and asked for a drink of water. A little girl answered his knock at the door and instead of water, brought him a glass of fresh milk.

And so, the hunger story goes from there…. “Paid in full with one glass of milk.”

In this school I toured, at the bottom of this letter posted on the school wall, was written, “Good friends are like Angels, you don’t have to see them to know they are there.”

This story, delivered by the most unassuming of tellers, demonstrated to me how important it is for all of us to keep up our work helping people in dire need….those suffering from just basic life’s needs….hunger.

I know hunger is a controversial issue to some people. But to me, this is a critical component of everything we’re doing here and what our dairy farm families stand for. We need affordable options for our families. The safe, effective advances in agriculture that mean affordable food and milk for children and families here in Colorado – and for Moses in Uganda – must be protected.

You may already know about the Great American Milk Drive – it’s one of the programs dairy farmers created to show our support for our communities by partnering with those who want to donate a gallon milk to food banks.

Let’s work to eliminate hunger here in Colorado – “Good friends are like Angels, you don’t have to see them to know they are there.”

God bless you and your families,


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Taking the High Road to Online Nastiness

We all know social media has ushered in a new era of communication and crusading. For dairy farmers, this new technology can help us begin conversations reaching more people and explore new opportunities to share what we do. One of the best parts of my job is sharing our dairy farmers’ stories and the fine work of our team at Western Dairy Association to people we haven’t engaged before. Most of the time people are appreciative and positive. It’s so rewarding.

Of course, this same technology helps bring out the haters. Criticism – fair and unfair – is often fast, intense and anonymous.

This kind of cyber-nastiness is, for many of us, simply the price we pay for participating in a discussion. I’ve encountered my share. Typically I ignore it because it runs counter to the values of our community and does not align with good business ethics and my personal values.

Dairy farmers, true agriculturalists, and those of us living agricultural careers are straightforward people. We say what we mean and mean what we say. We own our words. We’re too focused on our important jobs to dwell on negativity. When I’m online I talk about the forward thinking things that align with our mission, like the essential nutritional value dairy foods provide or the steps we take to ensure food safety or the great animal care dairy farmers provide, I don’t have time for the pettiness.

I do worry, however, that this all-too common un-sourced “sniping” erodes the trust we work so hard to establish with our community and consumers. It’s not just with dairy farmers. People trust their friends and family the most when it comes to information they read online. But are we really supposed to ignore J. Patrick Doyle of Domino’s because your uncle read something on Twitter by “@wyldnuttr2001” about the latest nonsense from PETA, organizations slyly set on putting animal protein out of business or from disgruntled individuals with poor business and work ethics?

We also know the mean-spiritedness of online “trolls” has actual, harmful impact on people in real life. Rumor mongering and cyber bullying have had devastating consequences for their victims, often with the offenders avoiding accountability. (A troll is a person who propagates discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers – Wikipedia definition).

All of us can do our part by taking the high road – continuing to value transparency and responsibility for our words and actions. Don’t change who you are or how you act just because you’re looking at a screen instead of someone’s face. Own your words and put your name to them. When you see a dairy farmer, agriculturalist or other honest, hardworking person in your community taking abuse, come to their aid. Have each other’s back online.

Join our Stand Up for Ag network and engage in with honest people, great stories and essential conversations about the importance of food production. Learn more about the fine agricultural associations and its people like Western Dairy Association, Colorado Beef Council, Colorado Livestock Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Wheat Council, Colorado Pork Council and many more. Hear from our fine employees, Colorado’s Farmers and Ranchers and essential Agribusinesses. Let’s fill the pipeline of honest conversations and start important dialogues with our communities.

We’re not going to convince every online troll to change their ways, but we can show them what civil online discourse and trusted values looks like.

We can take the high road!

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A place at the table for dairy farmers

It’s time for those who produce food to have a say in food policy.

Recently, Natural Grocers, a U.S. food chain with stores in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, announced they will sell dairy foods only from pasture-grazed cows. They will be requiring farm practices from their suppliers to include the requirement that cows must graze at pasture for at least 120 days a year and eat a primarily grass-based diet.

Setting policy? Talk to a farmer first

The announcement is part of a trend that has become commonplace in many communities, one I call “Food Policy in a Vacuum.” It takes place when the people who sell our food begin setting wide-ranging food policy without a thorough understanding of the issues and challenges faced by the hard-working folks who are producing the food we eat.

If the leaders at Natural Grocers had been willing to ask a few questions of our dairy farm families in any of the three states we serve, they might have received some important insights. While we certainly respect their right to sell products from any supplier they choose, we must point out that the weather in our region does not support 120 days of grass feeding a year. The grass in our microclimate grows very slowly, during a growing season of four months at the most. Further, the grass grown here is not nutritious enough, year round, for lactating cows (the ones who provide us with fluid milk).

Unworkable by any measure

And if the cows can’t thrive purely on pasture-based dairying, how about the health of the farmers’ land and business? Sadly, they would also suffer under this policy, since pasture-fed cows produce less milk that is often of lower quality. This factor alone means it would take additional cows to achieve the same milk quality and quantity we have today to meet consumer demand. This factor alone also would require more land, and even more acres to supply sufficient grass. Our dairy farm families know the importance of sustainability to land, water and resources.  Policies created in a vacuum cause an imbalance in sustainable use of such natural resources like water and irrigation for grassland.

So while they’ve received notoriety from their “only grass-fed” milk demand, I wonder if the folks at Natural Grocers might have done better by asking a few more long-range questions about the situation, or by taking up my offer of visiting one of our dairy farms and talking to our farmers to get a better understanding of the challenges faced by modern producers and the innovation our farmers are incorporating on their farms.

Our place at the table

Milk is one of the most affordable, available, naturally nutrient-rich foods (and protein sources) around. If we’re all going to have enough milk to meet demand and maintain health, then we must employ all the modern, scientific methods that have allowed us to feed ourselves, and many other parts of the world, for so many years. If you’re a dairy farmer, know a dairy farmer, or if you just enjoy drinking a glass of cold, nutritious milk whenever you like, then it’s time to stand up and insist that our dairy farmers have a place at the table when food policy decisions are made, and that those decisions are ones that all of us in agriculture can adhere to, in ways that keep our herds and our businesses as healthy as possible.

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Walking the walk

Every journey may begin with a single step, but it took me about 1.8 million of them to really appreciate the value of corporate wellness.

“How bad is it?” I went through the Anschutz Executive Health and Wellness assessment over a year ago. The assessment results reflected the past years of limited physical exercise, stress, and poor sleep and nutrition habits. It was obvious I needed to make some significant lifestyle changes.

1.8 million steps … and countingdec 2014 wellness blog

I had casually talked with Dr. Hill during a childhood health and wellness town hall where he told me about the executive assessments the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center was starting in Colorado. When I couldn’t finish the three-minute step test, I knew the results would not be good. And now, here I was in Dr. Holly Wyatt’s office, hearing the hard truth about what I already was beginning to realize: I had to make some big changes if I wanted to look better and have more energy to spend time with my husband, kids and grandkids. Since that fateful day February 27th, I have been challenged, tested and sometimes discouraged, but I’ve stayed true to my commitment to improve my health. As a result, I have more energy and vitality, 6 clothes sizes smaller and close to my fitness level of 18 years earlier. In fact, I’ve walked 1.8 million steps so far this year, and I’m not planning to stop anytime soon.

With my own personal health journey as an inspiration, I was determined to help my staff here at Western Dairy Association start living their healthiest lives, too. I did some research and found that employee health and wellness programs can make a big difference. According to a U.S. Department of Labor study, “workplace wellness programs can help contain the current epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases, the main driver of premature morbidity and mortality in the United States.” As the leader of an organization that proudly sponsors Fuel Up to Play 60, a program empowering students to lead healthier lives, it’s important to me that all of us at WDA are wellness role models for kids in our community.

Climb every mountain

With the help of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, and the eager support of the team, we rolled out our first-ever employee health and wellness program in May. The first phase of the program ran for 16 weeks, and included several sessions with Anschutz staff: Strengths Finder, Mental Muscle Building, Goal Setting, Setting Boundaries and more. Our team also took a field trip to the campus at the University of Colorado for individual health and wellness assessments, a POUND group exercise class and a healthy cooking demonstration. Everyone got FitBit fitness tracking devices to help increase healthy habits and movement during the work day. To motivate everyone, we decided to tackle the “Flat 14ers Club,” which flattens each of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks and measures how many steps would be needed to “climb” each one. Then, as each week passed, we counted how many of the mountains we had virtually scaled.

Looking forward to the New Year

In just 16 weeks of tracking, our staff climbed 41 mountains and walked 15,106,000 steps. We’re all so pleased with the results that we’ll be kicking off a new phase in 2015. If you’re ever out in Denver and stop by our offices, you’ll be greeted by our health-conscious and energetic team. And who knows? We just might talk you into taking a walk with us over the lunch hour, as we complete even more steps on our own health journeys as we kick off the New Year.

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Can we share that entree, please?

At the grocery store, in restaurants, and in our own kitchens, we can all take action to reduce food waste.

Yes, I share, and I don’t care who knows it. Because I often find myself eating at restaurants during the week, I never hesitate to ask my dining companions, “Can we share a dish?” Even though my request sometimes is met with a confused look, usually people will tell me, “Yes! I can never finish these huge restaurant portions, and I don’t want to waste food!”

Sharing meals is a small step, but it’s a mindful one in the battle against food waste. As a leader in the food production industry, I’m very concerned about this issue. While I was already aware of the fact that we waste 40 percent of our food in the United States, I just returned from a conference that helped me learn more about the situation that contributes to that staggering statistic, and to start reflecting on what more can be done.

Wasting 273 pounds, per person, each year

The topics of food waste and sustainability were front and center at the gathering of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Sustainability Council, which is comprised of more than 200 members representing businesses across the food chain, as well as NGOs. During our meeting in Seattle, we had time for exploration and learning (ask me sometime about how cool it was to visit Starbucks’ headquarters!), and we also learned some sobering facts about the food waste.

For example, I found out that each person in our country wastes an average of 273 pounds of food each year, and that more than 96 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills. Once in landfills, food breaks down to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change.

Dairy farms step up to the challenge

Many in the dairy industry are taking positive steps in response to this issue. In fact, compared with the farms of 60 years ago, our modern dairy farms use 95 percent less land and 65 percent less water, while producing 76 percent less manure. And, instead of the 26 million cows living on farms in 1944, we produce all that nutritious food with only 9 million cows. We’re also aware of the global implications of our work. While we’ll soon be able to meet U.S. food demand with only 8 million cows, the global demand will be for an additional 1.5 million, making dairy exports a vital link to global food sustainability.

Modeling recycled energy in Seattle

During the meeting in Seattle, the Sustainability Council visited the Werkhoven Dairy, which accepts pre-consumer food waste, combines it with manure in their digester, and produces electricity for as many as 300 homes. The benefits are significant, since they are keeping the air and water clean, protecting salmon streams, keeping the dairy operating and creating Grade A compost. It was heartening to see our industry held up as one that is doing many things right in this area. And we’re also doing more to make sure our products end up with those who need them most. I personally am gratified by our participation in The Great American Milk Drive, which works to get milk on the shelves in community food banks.

How to take action now

If you’d like to find out how to take action against food waste, I recommend learning more about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge, which has a toolkit to help you get started. During a presentation to the council, EPA representatives told us an average family can save $1,600 a year by reducing food waste.

Even with the progress I learned about during this meeting, I am very aware there is still more to do. Dairy farmers are dedicated to producing such a highly nutritious food, so we all need to work harder to keep excess food out of landfills and get it to the children and families who need it most.

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How thankful am I? Very!

I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to represent so many genuine, hard-working families in the dairy farming businesses.

Flying over Colorado early this morning, I was looking over the fresh blanket of sparkling snow that covered our beautiful state, relaxing and listening to my favorite tunes by Sade. After a work week best described as “complicated,” I had a moment to pause and reflect on how thankful I am for my life, family and career.

As the leader of an organization that is a trusted partner of family dairy farms, I feel a special sense of gratitude that I’m allowed to do the work I do every day. I am honored to be a representative for so many genuine, hard-working family businesses. I’m supported in that work by a group of fine men and women on our board of directors and a talented, dedicated staff. I am beyond grateful for all they do to further our mission here at Western Dairy Association.

I’ve had much to be thankful for this year. I’ve held dialogues and town hall meetings with inspiring people, including Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, USDA official Audrey Rowe, former CNN news anchor and GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick, Broncos safety and Fuel Up To Play 60 spokesperson David Bruton, and former U.S. Surgeon General and promoter of eliminating childhood obesity Dr. David Satcher.

I had a chance to befriend Florence Ozor, a founder of Nigeria’s Bring Back Our Girls campaign, and escorted her on a tour of a local dairy farm. With her, I experienced the palpable feeling of contentment of in a place where animals are so well cared for. And I met with Dr. Kenneth Cooper, called the Father of Fitness, who pioneered the aerobic exercise movement in the United States. I told him that, because of a University certification requirement, I hadn’t been allowed to graduate from college until I could run an 11-minute mile. I could have been on the “family” plan for college!  He “shared my pain” and we laughed together about how hard I had worked to reach that daunting goal!

As I gather with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table next week, I will know I have so much to give thanks for – my husband, wonderful kids and grandchildren, and work in agricultural food production that fulfills and sustains me. I can only look forward with great anticipation to the new challenges and opportunities that await me, and our association, in the year ahead.

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The Small Cup: Touring Prado Dairy with Florence Ozor

A family dairy farm can be a restorative place to visit, as I learned while walking through the barns with a brave and caring woman from Nigeria.

Florence Ozor had never seen such big cows. As we walked past the beautiful Holsteins in Prado dairy barn, she told me cows back home in Nigeria are much smaller, and different looking. But then, as I found out during the time I spent with this remarkable woman, many things in Nigeria are different than here in the United States. 2014-10-19 10.42.43

If you’ve been following the news, perhaps you’ll remember Florence’s name. A Government Relations officer, Rahamaniyya Oil and Gas Ltd, a subsidiary of Rahamaniyya Group of Nigeria, she has gained worldwide attention as one of the leaders of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, formed last spring in response to the kidnapping of a group of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist organization Boko Haram. Florence is one of the campaign’s leaders, protesting and advocating for the girls’ safe return.

And now, on a beautiful autumn afternoon, she was happily touring Prado Dairy Farm, asking questions, observing how content the cows were, and remarking on what a blessing it was to spend some time in such a place. She clearly felt at home there, displaying curiosity about how we bed the cows, and expressing disappointment that the animals were between milkings (she really wanted to try her hand-milking skills).

Even as Florence shared more about the horrific situation back in her native land, it became clear that she was able to relax a little bit and enjoy her time around the animals. And no wonder, I reflected: Prado’s family farm is a truly calm and gentle place to be. Care and concern for the animals, along with loving dedication to a way of life, shine through in everything they do. I thought about what I had heard during Florence’s presentation at Life Bridge Church earlier that morning. “What we fail to realize as humans is that our world may be large, but we’re all just in a small cup,” Florence said. “What affects one person affects every single one of us – loving humanity.”

2014-10-19 13.52.40As we walked and talked, I thought of all we have to be grateful for in this country. Florence has witnessed attacks on education, rights for girls, and basic human freedom at a level that’s hard for many of us to comprehend. In speaking out for the missing girls, she knows her life and the lives of those she works with may be in danger, but she feels a “moral responsibility” to bring them home. She is working tirelessly on their behalf, so I was grateful – and, I’ll admit, more than just a little bit proud — that I could offer a place of rest and peace to this incredibly courageous woman.

If you’d like to know more about the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, visit the group’s website or follow #bringbackourgirls on Twitter.

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A Great Day at the Dairy Farm

Collaborative conversations and a shared purpose were highlights of my visit 

For me, there is something truly wonderful about the opportunity to visit a working dairy farm. I am so grateful for a chance to experience the sense of common purpose, boundless energy and rugged perseverance that makes a dairy farm like no other place on earth.

I recently had the privilege to visit La Luna Dairy family farm, spending time with the owners who are thriving shane sitter photography-4407contributors to the local food scene. I shared the experience with several distinguished guests, including Audrey Rowe, U.S.D.A. Administrator for Food and Nutrition Services. Audrey is a passionate and well-informed individual, but she had never before had a chance to visit a dairy farm, so this was a very special day for her, too. In addition to a number of industry, government and school nutrition officials, we were especially pleased to welcome Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been a tireless advocate for agriculture and food production in our state.

We took a tour of the property, then gathered for an in-depth exploration about our common purpose — keeping kids healthy and well nourished. Audrey was especially positive and encouraging about the key role dairy plays in good school nutrition, and she clearly understands that dairy foods help kids do their best in the classroom and on the athletic field.

As we sat around the table and shared our thoughts, we discussed several important issues, including how to increase demand for fluid milk, from after school activities and summer nutrition programs, ways to maintain adequate supply, and pricing. Many of those who spoke expressed their gratitude just to be in the room and be part of a vital collective conversation about their passion for ensuring that dairy remains a mainstay on school menus.

Audrey told us, “I have a new appreciation when I look at a container of milk and how that milk got there, and what it takes to manage a dairy farm. We want to have dairy in our schools for our children.”

The Governor added, “Dairy is the ultimate nutritious quick and easy food. There’s a new emerging industry of higher quality, fast-casual chains, and two-thirds of those companies have corporate offices right in Denver. Colorado is uniquely positioned, with so many food and industry leaders, and they’re ready to step up to use and support dairy products.”

As often happens when I meet with these colleagues, I came away from the session with a renewed sense of optimism about the future of our industry and the important role it plays in the lives of so many people. And for those dairy farm families reading this blog in between chores at your own dairy farm, please accept my lasting thanks for all you do to keep us all going strong, physically and economically.

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Activists for Ag

What really matters about being a woman in agriculture? Here’s what I recently shared with a group of female FFA members.

I spent many years of my early life looking up to role models. I admired my father for his strong patriotic beliefs, which grew from serving his country in the Navy. I admired my mother for her courage and unwavering Christian beliefs. Later in my life, I met several dairy farmers who mentored me and showed me the way to a new and exciting career opportunity.

So it was especially thrilling to me to be asked to speak at the “Aspire to Grow” Agrium Women’s Leadership Conference, an event held for young women interested in agriculture. Sponsored by Agrium Women’s Leadership Group and Colorado FFA Foundation, the conference attracted more than 300 attendees, which meant that I had a chance to meet and talk with many of Colorado’s future agriculture leaders. They were an impressive group of young women, and I appreciated their interest, openness and curiosity.

Cultivating Balance and the “D” Word

After many years working in a business I love, it’s heartening to be in a position where I can now be a role model for young women who are seeking ways to make a difference in the world. I told the group that cultivating balance in your life really is about the “D” word, discipline! Living with passion and peak performance is exhausting, and it will require discipline in all aspects of your life. It all begins with the discipline to create personal health and wellness. As I shared with the group, junk food plus no physical exercise equals low motivation and low output.

Write it down, then live it

Writing your goals in specific detail and placing those goals where you see them daily is also an important part of the success equation. Having written goals means you have taken the time to really study “you” and have decided where you want to go with your personal and professional life. I have learned from experience that these simple steps can accelerate good things happening in your life.

While you might be thinking that this sounds like the standard talk the girls hear from parents and teachers every day, I backed up my advice with my own real-life example: I went back to school to earn my MBA when I was 42 years old and my two daughters were still teenagers. To achieve that goal, I needed to drive 100 miles – each way! – to attend classes three days a week, which I did for the three years it took me to earn my degree. I’d get up at 6 a.m., drive to school, and get back home in the late evening. I’d take a break with the family, study until 2 a.m., then get up the next day and start all over again.

“Thanks a lot, Mom!”

I got a laugh from the group when I told them that my youngest daughter was a freshman at Denver University when I was finishing up the last year of my graduate studies. She always knew she could find me studying at the Starbucks (a treat we didn’t have in our rural town), and would stop by sometimes, just to say “hi.” One day, she approached with a sarcastic, “Thanks a lot, Mom!” It turns out a couple professors in her undergraduate classes had recently been my teachers in graduate seminars, and they had told her, “Your mom set the bar very high, young lady!” It must have felt a little intimidating (or annoying!) for her, but I also know that she was very proud to have a mother who was working so hard, and was a role model for her in her own life (even if she didn’t tell me at the time!).

Ag activists first

Many of the questions that the audience posed were about the challenges of being a woman in a male-predominated field. The girls didn’t get much sympathy from me about that, I have to admit. My daily reality is that I’m often one of the few women leading board meetings, or other ag-related meetings. Often I arrive at meetings with a junior male colleague, the press inevitably starts talking with him, assuming he’s the CEO, not me. I told these young women they need to put the focus on their education and their communications skills, and not worry about being the only female in the room, the farm, or within five miles.

Just worry about becoming the smartest person in the room showing confidence and courage, I told them, and the one who is most passionate about the importance of our industry in feeding the world, today and tomorrow. If we can encourage our young people to be activists for Ag, no matter what their gender, we’ll be creating a new generation that can tackle the problem of food security for everyone on the planet, and that’s what really matters most for all of us.

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When the City Meets the Country

A governor, lieutenant governor, a farmer and the Western Dairy Association CEO walk into a party …

Governor Hickenlooper was having a truly enjoyable evening, and he didn’t want to go home. Neither did his fellowptp1 singer Keith Bath, and he was home. Keith was hosting 300 city and agricultural friends at his beautiful Fort Morgan farm. Our festivities were kicking off the Pedal The Plains race, which would begin the next day. Sitting in the audience, watching the Governor and Keith sing back-up for “Woodie and the Snowy River Band,” I was ready to take stage and sing along. My hold back? I “lip sync” in church – not a great voice!

It was a long and wonderful journey for Western Dairy Association to reach this proud and contented moment. Three years ago, the Governor and Dean Singleton, publisher of The Denver Post, approached me to ask for Western Dairy Association’s sponsorship of the first-ever Pedal the Plains event. Both men have a passion for promoting and showcasing the incredible agriculture of Colorado, and they had developed the idea for a three-day bike race to highlight our beautiful state and its food production bounty. They asked for dairy farm families help to support the event, gathering city and country in a new friendship, and honoring one of the best things our great state does – agriculture.

Sponsoring the event and emceeing the evening represented a chance to stand up for something I passionately believe in – honoring agricultural and rural folks.

ptp1Why was I so committed to Pedal The Plains? Because this event is unlike any in which I’ve ever been involved. I’m energized by the way our governor and fellow citizens have championed local agriculture, and I want to make sure that Western Dairy Association is along for the ride (pun intended). This event is the perfect meeting of city and country, and a way for us to bring our hearts and stories together in celebration of agriculture.

Over the weekend, WDA staffers were at key points along the race route, cheering on our own WDA team (clad in Holstein-spotted jerseys), helping with dairy farm tours and distributing “Refuel with Milk” chocolate milk to participants. People cycled, cheered, saw new places, and had a chance to realize how much we country folk and city folk have to appreciate about one another.

During the kickoff dinner at Keith’s farm, the Governor presented me with an official letter of gratitude and a Colorado state flag.  I have to confess – it brought tears to my eyes.ptp3


Later, as Keith, the Governor and I walked to our cars, we shared a hope that the weather for the first leg of the race would be sunny and clear – the perfect frame for the masterpiece of our agricultural bounty. As the men thanked me once again for dairy farm families’ sponsorship, I thanked them for being such important members of “Team Ag,” a team that all of us need to support and nurture in our everyday lives. And then, I have to admit, I drove straight home, glad I wasn’t going to be racing that first leg in the morning, but aspiring to a day when I will. Evenings like that one have a way of bringing out the optimist in me, I suppose.

Congratulations to all the racers, thanks to the sponsors and heartfelt thanks to the governor’s staff and the Western Dairy Association staff. A big Western Dairy Association hug to Governor Hickenlooper and Dean Singleton, who had the vision to get this whole thing started.

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