New England Dairy Featured in FINE’S Dairy Education Resource Hub

Laura Gallagher, Research Associate

Dairy Farming in New England

Dairy farms are an iconic and essential part of the New England farm landscape. Throughout the region, dairy is recognized for its economic and cultural contributions. Economically, sales of cow milk were just over $800 million in 2012 with goat and sheep milk contributing an additional $5.3 million. Milk sales accounted for 28 percent of total agricultural sales in New England during the same year. Across the region, there are close to 2,500 farms with milk cows and 1,440 licensed dairy herds [1]. Most of these farms are family owned and, in addition to producing milk and dairy products, they contribute to the agricultural heritage and landscape of New England.   

Despite the continued importance of dairy in New England, the number of dairy farms is declining. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of farms with milk cows fell by 20 percent from over 3,000 to just under 2,500 [2]. That means that fewer New England residents have dairy farms in or near their communities, and young people are less likely to visit or know a dairy farmer. In order to teach students about the critical role that dairy plays in our region, a number of organizations have started dairy education initiatives, including farm to school programs, farm visits, and harvest of the month activities.

In order to highlight dairy education and support expanded efforts around the region, FINE received a Keep Local Farms Fund grant through the Vermont Community Foundation. FINE’s Dairy Education Resource Hub provides links to classroom lessons, recipes, farm-based education activities, and nutrition information. With the help of experts in the field, we have compiled dairy education information from a range of educators, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Through this tool, organizers, teachers, food service administrators, and farmers can access resources to further dairy education in classrooms, cafeterias, and communities.

Before you head over to the full web page, read on to hear about some of the specific programs happening across the region!

Photo by Chris Manzella

Bringing the Farm to the School

Teachers and program coordinators across New England are coming up with creative ways to bring dairy farming to their classrooms. Mary Dunn, a Maine school teacher at Albert S. Hall School in Waterville, says of New England, “I can’t imagine an absence of dairy farms.” In order to teach her students about the importance of healthy, local food, Mary brought dairy farming to the school, by inviting a farmer and her goat to visit her class. She shares in an email, “In our small inner city school with a very high population of families who struggle with food insecurity, we have found dairy products open the doorway to introducing healthy eating and the benefits of local farms.” With the help of a local farmer, Mary’s students made fresh cheese. The goat - and cheese - were a huge hit! “They loved making it, eating it, and then listening to her share her story of her goats and how the milk got to us.”

Dairy Education in Classroom and Cafeteria

While farm animal visits are undoubtedly exciting, dairy education can also be incorporated into more traditional classroom and cafeteria activities. In many states, Dairy Harvest of the Month programs provide resources for schools to promote seasonal crops, encourage healthy eating, and support local farmers. In Massachusetts, schools participating in Dairy Harvest of the Month, have organized a variety of activities from grilled cheese taste tests and meeting local farmers to creating dairy infographics in a web design class. One school even invited local and state representatives to join their yogurt sundae breakfast. In addition to learning about the many aspects of dairy production and nutrition, students benefit from community engagement offered by these programs.

Photo by Ben DeFlorio

Learning on the Farm

Across the region, unique programs help students get excited about dairy by offering the opportunity to see a farm in action. In Rhode Island, students learn about dairy by creating their own original artwork and stories for the annual dairy contest. Randomly selected contest winners get the chance to visit a working Rhode Island dairy farm and meet the cows and farmers in person. Further north, in Vermont, Dairy in the Classroom engages students through five interactive lessons before they participate in a farm field trip. Also in Vermont, Shelburne Farms is a leader in experiential education; they offer school field trips, workshops, and support the Farm Based Education Network. By combining classroom learning with hands-on activities, students develop a personal understanding of how their food is produced.

Whether they are visiting cows on a dairy farm, tasting local cheese, or learning about how milk moves from cow to cup, students across New England are benefiting from dairy education programs. At FINE, we know that learning about local food helps build a connection between producers and consumers. We hope that education programs will motivate New England residents to support local farmers and enable dairy to remain an important part of our agricultural landscape for generations to come.

More information about dairy education programs, continuing education workshops, and funding opportunities is available through the resource hub! Many thanks to the following individuals for their input on this resource: Becca Story, New England Dairy and Food Council; Lisa Damon, Massachusetts Farm to School; Jill Hussels, New England Dairy and Food Council; Dana Hudson, Shelburne Farms; Alexandra Zipparo, Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets; Renee Page, Healthy Communities of the Capital Area / Maine Farm to Institution.


Have an experience with dairy education that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!


USDA Milk Production. Released February 21, 2018, by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture by the National Agricultural Statistics Service