Thank You America’s dairy farmers!

Ar-Joy Farms, LLC., Cochranville, Pennsylvania, Photo Courtesy of Marilyn Hershey

Looking back.

Ten years ago this July, I stepped into the offices of Edelman, the global communications firm, in New York City, for a meeting with America’s dairy farmers. They were in the process of putting together a philanthropy in partnership with the National Football League in support of better nutrition for children, within the context of the fight against the epidemic of childhood obesity.

As a mother of three at the time (now four) and with a career in broadcast media, I fit the mold as a potential board member. But little did any of us know that, a decade later, we’d be where we are today — with me serving as CEO of that philanthropy, known as GENYOUth; with dairy farmers rebounding from a series of hurdles that would challenge any industry; and with the NFL squarely in the middle of a social-justice movement.

And yes, let’s not forget spiking COVID-19 infections, an uncertain and precarious economic climate, and the ongoing crisis in physical activity among our nation’s youth. It’s been quite a 2020 so far — and it’s only July.

A storied history and commitment.

America’s dairy farmers are founding partners and critical supporters of our work at GENYOUth, which is focused on creating healthier school communities. Given my finance background from previously working on Wall Street, and philanthropic work with farmers, I get more of an inside peek at the business of agriculture than most Americans do. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a passionate and unapologetic supporter of American dairy farmers. They are, to a person, the most generous, hard-working people I know, and no one deserves our support and celebration this year more than they do.

In the month of June we celebrate June Dairy Month, raising a glass thanking farmers across this country. But as we lead into the Fourth of July holiday, there is no better time to pause and honor the remarkable farm families nationwide who have given our nation so much, and continue to do so at this unprecedented moment in time.

I’ll be honest with you, when I accepted the job to build, develop, and run this new philanthropy, I wasn’t aware of America’s dairy farmers legacy in U.S. schools, or of their century-old commitment to childhood nutrition in the school environment. Without them, our work in schools would not be possible, especially at this grave moment in time where our job is clear: to help feed our nation’s kids by providing our school nutrition professionals the resources and equipment they need to serve vital meals daily to over 30 million kids in America.

Years of unprecedented challenges.

The past three months brought a “near-death experience” for America’s dairy farm families. After years of challenges from weather, to input-costs, to pricing, delayed global trade deals and changing consumer tastes, the beginning of 2020 brought the highest milk prices since 2014. And then the coronavirus hit.

The collapse in sales to restaurants, hotels, institutions, universities, schools and food service contractors was near-total, as tourism and travel dropped to virtually nil. The demand for farmers’ crops dried up overnight. Commercial customers that would normally purchase dairy and other agricultural products in large quantities were sidelined for the indefinite future.

And even though Americans were suddenly eating most meals at home — with dairy flying off the shelves at record rates, and dairy accounting for a larger share of the consumers dollar, with sales up 25% while grocery purchases rose 14% — consumer demand was not nearly enough to absorb the dairy products being produced by America’s farmers in place of what restaurants and institutions would normally purchase. The situation was complicated by the perishable nature of dairy, which is locally sourced and always delivered fresh.

Tom Vilsack, CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Governor of Iowa, described COVID-19 to CNN as “a gut punch to American agriculture.” Secretary Vilsack knows better than anyone, and understands, as I do, the legendary resilience of American farmers. And neither of us has been surprised by dairy’s strong comeback despite the odds.

“Given the global shutdown of the food service industry and hundreds of millions of the world’s children not able to attend school and able to drink milk at school, the fact that our dairy industry still continues to grow exports reflects the amazing resilience and ingenuity of the industry. The industry recognized how important quality nutrition is to fighting off the virus and simply went to work immediately trying to overcome the challenges and barriers because the industry understood that lives were at stake,” said Vilsack.

Other data sources concurs, as does market analysis. The imbalance of supply and demand has finally abated in large measure due to a swift move on the part of farmers to reduce production, help fill empty shelves at food banks where milk is the number-one most requested item, and provided new supply chains solutions; while receiving some much needed government aid. Their efforts have been nothing short of Herculean!

The challenge to farmers is far from over. But the past few months have demonstrated something we too often forget. In times of uncertainty, we turn to “bedrock items” that we know will nourish us and our families. We know that our farmers are front-line workers, not just today but every day, and regardless of the circumstances. And that when challenged, the dairy industry does what it does best: rises to the occasion.

A time for thanks.

Many areas of American commerce have been challenged over these past few months. But few have been forced to adapt, retrench, retool, rebuild, reunify, react, and step up to the extent that dairy has, at a time when their very way of life has been threatened. But here’s what we’ve all learned: nobody gets rich being a dairy farmer, but they’re always there when we need them, caring for their animals, nourishing our kids, worrying about the food-insecure.

Dairymen and women are tougher and more resilient than the workers of any other business sector I know — and the giant “pause” that our economy is going through has tested their mettle. They have showed us what they’re made of.

As I said in an Instagram post at the beginning of National Dairy Month, for the 38 million kids we support at GENYOUth, fueling up with a glass of milk is a privilege and a blessing. I’m a kid who grew up in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, yet my real family is on farms across this country. What they have taught me about love, the value of a work ethic, hardship, commitment, perseverance, and passion is something I pray all our kids will learn. God bless the patriotism of our farmers. God bless our dairy family. And on this Independence Day 2020, God bless America, The Land That I Love.

Alexis Glick is Chief Executive Officer of GENYOUth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing child health and wellness through programs presented in partnership with the National Football League and the National Dairy Council. Glick also serves as a frequent contributor to many national and international news programs, providing her perspective on global business topics of importance, the financial markets and CEO leadership trends. Prior to GENYOUth’s inception, Glick helped launch Fox Business network, where she served as Vice President of Business News and anchored “Money for Breakfast.” Glick previously served as anchor on NBC’s Today Show and CNBC’s Squawk Box. In addition to her executive responsibilities at GENYOUth, and enjoying her active role as mom to four kids, Glick is active in several national and local non-profit institutions. She is a frequent, strategic advisor to CEOs for some of the largest international, blue-chip and Fortune 500 companies on issues relating to media strategy, business development, investor relations and communications and advises professional athletes on social media, branding and public speaking.