Dairy in My Bones

I just can’t help myself. As I sit down to write this column, I simply feel compelled to write about dairy. June is National Dairy Month, and it is a great time to reflect on the importance of dairy cows, dairy farmers and dairy processors in our lives.

I’m not exactly sure what marked the inception of my love for all things dairy. My mom would tell me of the time that I made quite a scene in our local grocery store, Buehler’s, as a toddler. As she unloaded groceries at the checkout, I whined quite loudly for yogurt while strapped in the grocery cart. The cashier remarked that she had heard plenty of children throwing fits for food at her check-out, but that was a first for yogurt. And remember, in 1980 yogurt was pretty much just plain old yogurt!

When I was eleven years old I gave a speech in the 4-H Health and Safety Speaking Contest. I can still remember the title; “Give Your Bones a Break.” Not too many prepubescent girls are even aware of osteoporosis, let alone conscience of getting the recommended 1300 milligrams of calcium per day to have healthy bones.

I wrote about that speech in the essay I submitted to apply for graduate school. My dream was to study under Dr. Jim Harper, J.T. “Stubby Parker” Endowed Chair in Dairy Foods. I was a member of the Ohio State Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation team, so I knew that dairy processing was the path for me in grad school. (Yes, that’s right. We practiced judging cheddar cheese, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, milk and ice cream.)

Dr. Harper had already retired once from Ohio State, before I even started kindergarten, but he returned to the Food Science Department in the early 1990’s. He was 80 years old when he accepted me as a research assistant in his lab. I learned so much from him. He was the kindest and most patient professor I ever had, full of both intelligence and wisdom. I spent my time in grad school researching alternative methods of milk processing.

After I graduated I worked several years for a nutrition company where I formulated new food products with milk proteins like caseinates and whey. During my time in college and at Abbott Nutrition, I thought often about where all that milk was coming from. I was appreciative of the dairy farmers who were caring for their cows to produce quality milk that I could use to make quality products.

Although I did not grow up on a dairy farm, like many farms throughout Ohio, our family farm was a dairy long ago. I keep an old Turkey Bend Dairy quart bottle in my office. It’s a painted bottle with an image on the back side and orange lettering that reads “From Farmer to Consumer.”

It’s a really beautiful thing when consumers appreciate the diligence and sacrifice of farmers who produce food for them to eat. And it is equally wonderful that farmers are thankful for the consumers who buy and enjoy their products. I’m so glad we have each other and the processors in between as well. Now, to savor this last bite of strawberry yogurt I’m eating.

A version of this column first appeared in the Coshocton Tribune on 6/04/2017.