The Vermont Milk Cooler Program: Promoting Dairy in the Classroom and the Cafeteria

By Cecilia McCrary, VAAFM Intern

It’s no secret that Vermont is a dairy state.  63% of all milk produced in New England comes from Vermont, and dairy represents 70% of Vermont’s total agricultural sales. In fact, milk generates more sales than any other Vermont agricultural product. Dairy is a big part of Vermont’s identity, and yet, you might not know it from the looks of the dairy displays in our schools. 

Many Vermont schools do not have appropriate storage facilities to display and keep milk ice cold for their students. New milk coolers can cost thousands of dollars, which may be out of reach for many schools. That is where Vermont’s dairy farmers and the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets has stepped in. In 2014, the agency launched the Milk Cooler Program using funds made available through the Vermont dairy check-off funds ($0.10 per one hundred pounds of milk collected from farms and managed by the Vermont Dairy Promotion Council for the purposes of promoting the Vermont dairy industry). The Milk Cooler Program, which is funded directly by Vermont dairy farmers, allows Vermont schools to apply for funding for the purchase and installation of new milk coolers. In 2016, the program gifted $12,000 to 12 schools. These schools include schools like Putney Central School, Wardsboro Elementary, the Halifax School, and Thetford Elementary.

Putney Central School received Milk Cooler funds last year (2015).  Putney’s new bulk milk dispenser purchased with Milk Cooler program funds has led to an increase in milk consumption, a decrease in waste, and a reduction in labor cost associated with maintaining a milk program. Before the bulk milk cooler was installed, the school was tossing 51,000 milk cartons into the landfill annually. Now, the school provides tumblers to students, and the waste of milk cartons has been drastically reduced. Using tumblers also means a much easier clean-up for the cafeteria staff.

The kids are also very happy with the new milk cooler. In fact, that the school recently had to put a locking system on the cooler to keep kids from drinking milk outside of lunchtime. “Having to lock up milk so kids won’t drink it was not something we predicted,” said Alice Laughlin, who is on the school board at Putney Central School. “[The staff was] pretty convinced it was going to cause them more work and kids were not going to drink it,” she said. “Turns out we are experiencing the opposite.”

To schools, the funds mean more than just machinery. It means that their students are able to enjoy a healthy, vitamin rich drink option at lunchtime. Healthier students lead to happier students, and that leads to better students overall. In addition, the milk coolers provide an opportunity for Vermont students to learn about the very industry that helps Vermont produce some of the best milk, cheese and ice cream in the world.

The next round of applications will be accepted in fall 2016.  Schools interested in participating in the Milk Cooler Program, should contact Ali Zipparo by phone: 802-505-1822, or by email: alexandra.zipparo@vermont.gov.