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Home News-Telegram News SW Dairy Farmers return to Dairy Museum; directors focusing on environment, sustainabiity, public awareness

SW Dairy Farmers return to Dairy Museum; directors focusing on environment, sustainabiity, public awareness

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The Southwest Dairy Farmers board of directors returned to the Dairy Museum and Education Center this week, the first time the governing body of the association had met at its educational centerpiece in some 18 years.

The board meets about three times a year, but because the directors come from all across the country, they normally gather in a location that’s close to an airport.

This year, however, they decided to hold a meeting in Sulphur Springs, according to Jim Hiill, general manager of the Southwest Dairy Museum and Educational Center, which was constructed about 20 years ago.

The meeting brought about 60 people, from members of the Southwest Dairy Farmers board of directors to their spouses, families and guests.

Among those attending were Phil Porter and Gene Dunham, longtime dairymen who came up with the original plan for an education center to promote the dairy industry around 1982.

“We had a different kind of idea when we started, and it took us awhile to get things on board and get this facility built, but it’s a jewel for the dairy industry,” Dunham said Wednesday night prior to a dinner at the museum for the directors and other visitors. “There’s nothing like this in the country.”

The center’s educational mission may interest an even wider audience today, Dunham added.

“People are more interested today in the farm and where their food comes from and the care that it takes to get it there,” he said. “That’s something we recognized a long time ago, that enhancing the image of the dairy farmer was a way of promoting it. We knew what bad publicity did, and good publicity will do the opposite, so that’s the reason we did so many of the things we did.”

Porter, the museum’s co-founder who was also a longtime editor of “Dairyman’s Digest,” the newsletter of Associated Milk Producers Inc., says there is still a great need to educate people on how the food they eat is produced.

“It’s amazing that so many people grow up in the city and have no real concept where any of there food comes from,” said Porter.

“We see it every day,” added Jim Hill, general manager of the museum and education center. “Our job is to increase demand for dairy products, and to educate young people about nutrition, and I’m proud of what we do, and I think all the guys involved in this organization are proud of what we do.

“I think it’s been well received by the community, and we’re glad to be here,” added Hill, who spent 28 years serving as Assistant Milk Market Administrator in Tulsa, Okla., before joining Southwest Dairy Farmers in 2004. “Dairy’s very important to Hopkins County. Even if production has slipped a little bit, I think the county is fifth in production in our state. It’s still very viable in this county, and I think we create awareness for the dairy industry.”

A big part of the center’s educational mission revolves around the Mobile Dairy Classroom. It’s a traveling milking parlor, complete with a live cow, that travels to schools, fairs and livestock shows year-round. Trained instructors demonstrate how to milk a cow and explain how milk goes from the farm to the consumer.

The program reaches ever outward, carrying the educational message to six states, and has even made it as far north as Montana.

While the concept of the mobile unit didn’t originate with Dunham and Porter, they developed the working prototype that has made the program a big success.

“Some people in California had done a little work with mobile units, but theirs was a totally different approach than ours, and they didn’t run all the time — ours runs 12 months a year,” Dunham explained. “But outside of that, nobody was doing that.”

But the directors aren’t just in town this week to admire their unique museum or to praise themselves on a job well done. They’re also continuing to promote the dairy industry in new and innovative ways.

One of the attendees includes Kimberly Clauss, a dairy producer from Hilmar, Calif., who also serves on the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board.

Clauss said one area the directors planned to work on this week is finding ways to get out the word that dairy farmers are great environmentalists.

“We’re the best environmentalists you can ask for, but the problem is that we haven’t always told the public that, and that’s what we’re working toward,” explained Clauss. “We’re talking about sustainability, but dairy farmers have been sustainable for generations. The problem is that we haven’t been communicating that to the public, and the public doesn’t understand everything we do, how we collect rainwater from our roofs, how we reuse all the water that goes through our milk barns to irrigate our crops with.”

A special committee has been created, Clauss added, to study ways that dairy farmers can reduce greenhouse gases.

“We’re taking it from the dairy all the way through to the retail [store] so that we can actually find out what the carbon footprint is of fluid milk,” she said. “Then, in the long run, we’re going to work on projects that will help to reduce that.

“In the last 60 years I think, the dairy industry has reduced its greenhouse gases by 60 percent, but we don’t get that message out to the consumer,” she added. “Consumers want to feel good about the products they’re eating and drinking, and we have good stories to tell — we just need to tell them.”

 

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