A dairy-themed basket sits on a counter in Little Falls, Minn. Baskets are raffled off at events as part of the Morrison County Milk Project.
A dairy-themed basket sits on a counter in Little Falls, Minn. Baskets are raffled off at events as part of the Morrison County Milk Project. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    LITTLE FALLS, Minn.  – For the last month, Brenda Rudolph’s evenings have not been filled with family dinners and relaxing couch-time. Instead, Rudolph has braved snow-covered roads and frigid temperatures as she makes her way across Morrison County for one cause: to get milk in the hands of kids.
    Rudolph, who milks 80 cows in rural Little Falls with her husband Nathan and children Everett and Vivian, has distributed free milk to over 500 children in the last four weeks as part of the Morrison County Milk Project. The “Raising a Farmer” blogger attends extra-curricular practices, events and games and distributes pint-sized white whole and 2 percent chocolate milk to participants. The youth can take as much milk as they want.
    “I’m really happy with how it is going,” Rudolph said. “I wasn’t anticipating it to be so successful. It’s pretty amazing to see an idea turn into something amazing in a short amount of time.”
    The Morrison County Milk Project, which encompasses both athletics and non-athletic extra-curricular activities, was an idea that lay dormant in Rudolph’s mind. Come December 2018, she decided to put her thoughts into actions.
    With the struggling dairy industry as motivation and a well-thought-out plan, Rudolph contacted superintendents from each of the county’s five school districts – Little Falls, Pierz, Royalton, Swanville and Upsala.
    “Right off the bat, I had tremendous support from the schools,” Rudolph said. “I was surprised of the immediate feedback that, yes, they wanted to participate in this.”
    Once the schools were on board, Rudolph enlisted sponsorships from Kemps, Coborn’s Inc., Central Minnesota Credit Union, Dairy Farmers of America, Associated Milk Producers Inc., Bongards’ Creameries and First District Association.
    Rudolph was clear about three things: Milk would be available to both athletic and non-athletic activities, she would serve whomever attended varsity practice, and milk would be free choice – no one would be forced to take milk and no one would be turned away.
    “In order to get kids excited about milk, you have to give it to them,” Rudolph said. “I thought a good way to promote milk would be to go to activities, after practice and tie it in with refueling your body.”
    Rudolph has coordinated her efforts with the intention of reaching each winter season team or club from each district. She makes it a point not to disrupt practices or games by arriving at a time which is convenient for the coach rather than convenient for her.
    “My No. 1 focus was to get milk in the hands of kids,” Rudolph said. “(After practice or events) kids are tired. They want to get home. The distributing of the milk takes about 10 minutes. I don’t give a presentation or anything. Then, through Facebook and social media I share the why – to bring awareness that dairy farms have a huge impact on our communities, and we are here.”
    In addition to the hand-outs, a dairy basket has been raffled off at area events. The proceeds, which were to originally be used for boosters, have spread goodwill beyond school walls.
    “It’s turned into something more amazing than I could have ever imagined,” Rudolph said. “Teams are actually requesting to donate the money to someone in need. It’s created a life of its own. I think it’s important because it teaches our kids that small things do matter. The decisions we make matter. Supporting people we know and love matters in many ways.”
    Proceeds have been donated to a student whose family lost its home to a fire, a student who needed a surgery and other acts of kindness.
    The project has had a good response. Rudolph said students rush to her milk-packed cooler each delivery, laying to rest the myth that kids now-a-days do not like milk.
    “One kid took like six of them,” Rudolph said. “Which is good. I like to see that, and I like to see they are excited. … Kids want milk. They do. If anything, at least in Morrison County they do.”
    Rudolph has even had school staff comment on the lasting impact – students are talking about milk in the hallways.
    Rudolph said she is bringing awareness to the importance of agriculture through her project, but she is also helping to educate people about food choices.
    “Just looking at food in the grocery store people are confused as to what to put in their cart,” Rudolph said. “We are constantly exposed to don’t eat this, don’t eat that. We don’t even know what to put in our cart anymore. The point is to get milk into the hands of kids, and they can say, ‘Hey this is milk with a red cap on it, and I really liked it.’ Then, when they now go to the store, they can find what they like and know.”
    Rudolph’s biggest hope is her idea catches on. She said whether rural or urban, the idea can be applied anywhere.  
    “Just because you don’t understand farming, does not mean you don’t understand good food,” Rudolph said. “I just happen to be a dairy farmer.”
    Rudolph is happy she enacted the project.
     “I’m constantly teaching my children small things do matter, but they aren’t going to know that unless they see me in action,” Rudolph said. “It’s important we create the community we want. Instead of complaining about our community, I think we need to do something about it. If you see a need in your community, do it. Don’t be afraid to act. Don’t be afraid to make the phone call. Just do it. We have that mentally that someone else will, but sometimes you are that somebody else.”
     From an idea to an action with a huge impact, the Morrison County Milk Project is making a difference in the lives of more than dairy farmers. Cheers to milk.