The Journey of Milk: Where Dairy Products Get Their Start Through the Eyes of a Fuel Up to Play 60 School
This is a guest post submitted by Summer Geers, CMU Intern and Dawn Earnesty MS, RDN.
You may drink milk on a regular basis. You may eat cheese on a regular basis. You may even eat yogurt on a regular basis, but you may not realize exactly where those foods come from.
Before your favorite dairy foods hit the store shelves, milk travels from farm to store through a process that ensures it’s safe, wholesome, and fresh. In Michigan, that process all starts at a local dairy farm.
The Fuel Up to Play 60 team of students and Program Advisors at St. Charles Elementary School were able to experience first-hand where the journey of milk begins. Our experience at Goma Farm, home to about 3,000 dairy cows, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how the milking process begins.
I have had the opportunity to visit a dairy farm in the past, but introducing children to one for their first time is an amazing experience. After meeting with these students for years to implement Fuel Up to Play 60 and always encouraging dairy consumption as part of a healthy diet, we finally had the opportunity to see first-hand why promoting dairy and educating our students where milk comes from is so important.
The visit to Goma Farm kicked off our Fuel Up to Play 60 Farm to School Healthy Eating Play, which extended back to our entire school. Our goal was to educate all students at St. Charles Elementary where dairy comes from and how milk moves from the farm to table.
It all started at the dairy farm by putting on our shoe protectors and stepping into the barn. Once inside, we were able to see all of the action. There was one barn in particular that got a lot of traffic from the cows. This barn contained the milking parlor where the cows were milked every day, twice a day. I never realized how sanitary even milking a cow could be!
Once the cows walked up to their milking stalls, their udders were sanitized with an iodine solution and then cleaned off to be connected to the milking machine. While the cows were being milked, there was a meter above each one that said exactly how much milk was being produced.
In order to keep track of how much milk came from each cow and what they ate and drank every day, each cow also had a Fitbit-like device on their ankle, which stored all of that information.
The milking process is very quick because all of the workers have perfected the procedure. The milk flows through a series of pipes until it reaches the tanker truck. From the time the milk is removed from the cow until it leaves the farm, it is not touched by any human hands.
A small sample of milk is also collected and tested, ensuring the milk is up to standard and not contaminated. Once the milk passes its test, it’s cooled to the proper temperature and loaded onto the truck. This cooling process takes only a couple seconds to do. This particular dairy farm produces two tanker loads of milk a day (since it takes 10 hours of constant milking to fill up one truck).
The milk that goes into the truck is raw, unpasteurized milk; it then goes off to be turned into whole, low-fat and fat-free milk, chocolate milk, yogurt and cheese.
The milk production process is complicated — from making sure cows are well-nourished from the first days of life up until milk is produced and loaded onto the truck. Overall, the production of milk is clean, precise and involves a large amount of technology!
We hosted a “farm to school” day following our Goma Farm visit where the Fuel Up to Play 60 student team featured a variety of hands-on stations that allowed all students of our school to try new dairy-rich foods, meet a farmer and a cow, get active and discover what was learned from our very own dairy farm tour.
Going to the farm is just one of the many “Plays” our Fuel Up to Play 60 team has implemented over the years.
Fuel Up to Play 60 Plays Initiated at St. Charles Elementary:
- Ramping up recess: New equipment, such as balls, hula hoops, and soccer gear was made available to increase physical activity
- Adding smoothies to our menu: We purchased commercial blenders to host smoothie days in school
- Painting the cafeteria and playground: To encourage healthy choices, we gave the cafeteria and playground a makeover
Visiting a dairy farm is an eye-opening experience that is awesome to be a part of at least once. Hey, you may even be as lucky as we were and see a calf being born. You just never know what you might experience when discovering where milk comes from.
Fuel Up to Play 60 is a program that empowers youth to take action to improve nutrition and physical activity at their school and for their own health. If your school is interested in ‘Farm to School’ Healthy Eating Plays like the one shared here, be sure to check out our resources!
Dawn Earnesty, MS, RDN has served as a co-program advisor for the St. Charles Fuel Up to Play 60 team for the past four years. By participating in monthly meetings with students and Program Advisors, she has had the opportunity to lend her nutrition expertise to the program while also providing assistance through grant writing, activity implementation, and motivating student team members.