What do National Dairy Month, food insecurity, doing laundry and finding bright spots on the horizon have in common? Let me explain.
    I was at the time-saving laundromat with piles of clothing and bedding to wash and dry. As I watched the big commercial unit wash away dirt from Norwegian travelers’ clothing, the rich south central Minnesota soil of our crop scouter and bedding from college spin around, I had time to consider recent pitfalls and how to switch to a positive outlook.
    In these times, remaining upbeat can be tough. I reminded myself that we have a dairy to manage daily, cows that work hard to produce milk used for delicious dairy foods, our family, our faith and some spectacular friends to rely on nearby. Great things to ponder.
    And, there was another positive experience that happened to me this week. I was asked as a dairy farmer to take part in an interview taped to be aired on KSTP-TV Twin Cities Live about how the dairy community is partnering with Second Harvest Heartland and Feeding America to provide fresh, cold milk to Minnesota food shelves. The effort being kicked off during National Dairy Month is called Give a Gallon. People are asked to go to the website (https://milklife.com/give) and donate to provide milk to food shelves.
    In preparing for the interview, I learned that one in six kids in the United States faces hunger, and the problem is worse in the summer months when kids may lose access to free or reduced-price school meal programs. America’s dairy community is joining forces with Feeding America to raise awareness of the issue and to nourish people. Twin Cities Live watchers were urged to go to the website to donate to provide milk to their local food shelf. Those were the key messages to tell during the taping.
    My part in the interview was to explain how dairy is an integral part of a balanced meal and how nutrient rich dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt are part of the solution to the hunger gap. Yet many people do not have access to dairy. I shared my passion for the work we do as dairy farmers to take care of our cows, and how we work hard every day to harvest the milk. I emphasized that through our work and love of dairying, we are able to provide a low cost food packed with protein, calcium, Vitamin D and potassium for kids and their families. It is a way to give back and remain positive about our profession.
    Many food shelves in communities in our state have been unable to offer fresh milk. Through a Midwest Dairy funded grant program, there are now 37 Second Harvest Heartland food banks in our state getting refrigeration units so clients can take milk and other fresh dairy home when they visit the food shelf. Our dairy checkoff dollars are working to provide dairy rich nutrition to others.
    The St. Peter Area Food Shelf has had milk in their coolers since the first of this year. Through talking to the manager, I learned the food shelf purchases 135 gallons of milk every two weeks from Second Harvest Heartland, and it is gone within a few days. If the milk is gone and people want it, they are given vouchers to get milk at grocery stores. The money used to purchase milk would be from donated dollars.
    Our local food shelf is open four times a week for a few hours at a time. All people working there are volunteers, and I have volunteered through Nicollet County Farm Bureau, 4-H and our church. At our food shelf, about 2,700 families were served last year.
    Also rich in dairy offerings is The Summer Food Service Program, which is a federal nutrition program that feeds kids according to Allison O’Toole, Second Harvest Heartland CEO, who was also interviewed for the live taping. She said dairy is one of the most commonly requested foods. The meals are served all over the metro area and our state in schools, parks, rec centers and churches. They serve milk, fruit, veggies, protein and a type of grain at every meal. Last summer the program served 3.2 million meals across Minnesota, according to O’Toole. In St. Peter, the Read and Feed Program has served a summer noon meal for several years.
    The Twin Cities Live program delivered this message via our dairy check-off dollars: dairy farmers are driven by our desire to nourish people and support our communities. Donations can help deliver nutrient rich fresh milk to the people who need it the most.
    This is positive news. On another note, the three children whose laundry I was doing are all home from their journeys through fields and fjords, and hitting the fridge for their fresh, cold glasses of milk.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.