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Deborah Kurtz: Talking up milk

PD Editorial Intern Melissa Miller Published on 10 June 2013

False information in public media about farms and food remains common. As producers make the reach out in their communities, many misconceptions can be avoided.

“Educating the public on their food source is important to us,” says Deborah Kurtz, co-owner of Kurtland Farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. “It is important to develop strong relationships in our community, so greater understanding of growing and producing food is spread.”

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Kurtz and her family run a 400-head dairy farm. The farm has been in her husband’s family for three generations. Kurtz’s passion for educating the public about dairy has led to a pattern of positive outreach as she represents the dairy industry in a variety of venues.

The Please Touch Children’s Museum in Philadelphia represented one such venue as Kurtz recently took part in a special farm-themed exhibit.

The interactive museum hosts special, reduced-cost events for children in the city and surrounding area. Partnering with the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association (MDA), the museum was able to bring a piece of the farm to the big city.

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Kurtz manned the “Ask a dairy farmer” booth for the event. Children asked questions about what life was like on a dairy farm, where milk comes from and about Kurtz’s experiences as they snacked on the complimentary single-serve cheese samples.

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Kurtz also entertained guests at two separate reading times by sharing cow-themed stories.

One story, “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type,” put a humorous twist on cow comfort when one herd began negotiating with the farmer for electric blankets in the barn.

This and other stories helped show the children the lighter side of dairy.

“Talking with the children was the best part,” Kurtz says. “I loved seeing the light of understanding come on in their eyes when they understood where their milk comes from.”

Events like this help connect producers with consumers. According to Kurtz, promoting dairy through outreach events not only helps to educate but also builds an important relationship.

“These kids got to ask questions and learn that their milk comes from a good place where people work hard,” she says.

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This isn’t the first time Kurtz has represented the dairy industry for MDA. Last June, Kurtz and three other women recorded radio spots to celebrate dairy month.

The ads encouraged listeners to add more dairy products to their diet, participate in educational dairy events and just to raise a glass of milk to the dairy farmers of America.

The spots played on several stations in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. areas during the month of June.

Kurtz says, “I hope to get invited to do more outreach events like this in the future. I enjoy them and believe they play a valuable role in the industry.”

Kurtz’s favorite promotional dairy events involve educating children and youth. She says, “Because [we] raised athletes, we are always excited [when] the dairy industry joins forces with professional and semi-professional athletes and athletic teams to promote dairy products to our school-age children.

“These promotions teach young athletes the value of eating nutritional food and how milk can help strengthen their bodies during post-recovery workouts.”

Kurtz and her family also hope to promote the dairy industry right from their home operation.

She and her family have recently upgraded their dairy to include four robotic milking machines. The family operation also now boasts new environmental conservation equipment including a solids separator, a new compost drum and a lagoon.

The time-saving ability of the new equipment has allowed the family to milk 130 more cows per day. Currently, only about half the cows are milked robotically while the others continue with more traditional methods.

Throughout the upgrade, the operation hasn’t lost any employees or positions. It now accomplishes more with the same people. In fact, the farm added one more position when it reached out to the community by taking on a new intern position. This allows a young person to learn the realities of running a dairy.

“Our employees are invaluable,” Kurtz says. “They are key to the success of the operation. It’s been a huge learning experience for all of us.”

The new equipment also gives the family a chance to invite the community to their farm to experience this exciting new change. The family is planning an open house for the new facility in September.

“We are hoping that this [open house] will be the beginning of more dairy outreach,” Kurtz says.

After the open house, the family is planning to continue with public tours. Kurtz says, “We would like to give people a first-hand opportunity to learn about local dairy farms in our home area and beyond.”

Even before the open house begins, the family is reaching out online to share their journey in robotic milking through a farm blog.

Though Kurtz says they haven’t had as much time as she would like to keep it updated, the blog helps others to see some of what it takes to make such a dramatic change in the operation.

Kurtz says, “We are hoping to become more involved in social media, via blogging, Facebook and possibly Twitter because it has become an effective way to communicate with the public about our farm.”

In the end, it all still comes down to a family working hard to put out the best product possible and promote the industry they love. “The work is very rewarding,” Kurtz says. “I believe in the product and enjoy representing the dairy industry.” PD

PHOTO
Deborah Kurtz talks about dairy farming to two young guests attending the Please Touch Museum event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 3. Photo courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association.

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Melissa Miller
Editorial Intern
Progressive Publishing

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