A wise man once said, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream, and that is pretty much the same thing.”
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As I joined Carrie Lepore — deputy secretary of marketing, tourism and film for the Department of Community and Economic Development — at Urban Churn creamery in Mechanicsburg to kick off Ice Cream Month and promote the Pennsylvania Ice Cream Trail, there were nothing but smiles and ice cream scoops in sight.

Ice cream is a favorite and staple for many, but it is also a treat with a much deeper connection.

Whether it’s a reward following a Little League win, a salute to reuniting with family and friends, or a tribute to a hot summer day, there’s a lot to celebrate about and with Pennsylvania dairy.

Ice cream brings us together, and it exemplifies the sense of community found within the dairy industry.

While celebrating Dairy Month in June, I had the opportunity to attend the National Holstein Convention hosted by the Pennsylvania Holstein Association in Lancaster, where I was approached with a book, “Cows, Farms & Families.” Filled with Holstein history, the book weaves the stories of times gone by while highlighting the growth of the Pennsylvania dairy industry.

As I recognized the faces and names that help tell the tale of the Pennsylvania Holstein Association, I remembered my own experiences as a junior member. And I realized something more — dairy is a community that advances community.

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, this community spirit was captured time and time again. As supply and demand forced many dairy farmers to dump their milk, it was the farmers who were at a loss who also raised their hands to ask what more they could do to support the charitable food system and their neighbors in need.

It was these farmers, and others, who sought alternatives to county fairs so youth could continue to learn more about their 4-H and FFA project animals, despite not being in a show ring.

Dairy is a community that advances community, and it’s an essential industry that strengthens our commonwealth.

Pennsylvania’s more than 5,400 dairy farm families power more than 53,000 jobs and $14.1 billion in economic output each year. It is an outstanding contribution to agriculture and greater society that deserves support and recognition.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is proud to invest in an industry that has given us so much. In the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget, Gov. Tom Wolf committed $2.8 million to Ag Excellence, which includes the Center for Dairy Excellence, to continue its good work.

The Center directly supports dairy farms through industry collaboration and on-farm grants and programming. This past week I had the opportunity to see one of these grants in action when I visited Don and Shirley Hoover, of Dairy-Lee Farm in Carlisle, who recently received a cow comfort grant to invest in fans and a cow brush.

Grants provided by the Center allow farmers to make necessary investments to strengthen animal welfare and, in return, cow productivity.

Investments like these — dedicated to family farms of every size and scope — improve on-farm vitality while increasing the competitiveness of Pennsylvania dairy, which is why we are committed to ensuring every dairy farm has opportunity to succeed at every step of the supply chain.

Opportunities like the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program are committed to helping dairy stand out in an innovative, competitive marketplace.

Funded in 2018 and again in 2019, PDIP invested $10 million over two years in 46 projects to strengthen on-farm dairy activities and investment. Projects included on-farm value-added processing, research and development, and marketing.

In June I met with Mike Baysal, CEO of Country Food LLC. Mike received a PDIP grant in 2018 to invest in cold storage, milk tanks and yogurt processing equipment. A PA Preferred member, Mike processes milk from Lancaster County for his line of yogurt products, including shelf-stable yogurt.

This investment allowed Mike to grow both his business and his community impact. The development of shelf-stable yogurt has been extremely valuable to the USDA Farmers to Family Food Box Program and the charitable food system. Mike admitted that without the PDIP grant, Country Food would not have had the capacity to assist families in need during the pandemic.

It is another example of how dairy — at every step of the value chain — is a community that advances community.

To everyone in the dairy industry, thank you. Your work does not go unnoticed, and our commonwealth is a better place because of all that you give back to society.

Dairy Farmers of America, along with its employees and family farm owners, are continuing their commitment to help fight hunger by supporting Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month in September.

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