Creating Future Dairy Champions - A Farmer's Perspective on Fuel Up To Play 60

Posted 03/11/2019 by Marilyn Hershey

As farmers, we often hear about our health and wellness program, Fuel Up to Play 60, but today we will hear firsthand from a program director. 

We know the program impacts and influences children in 73,000 schools across the country. We know FUTP 60 is a partnership between National Dairy Council and the National Football League and we know it optimizes dairy. However, rarely have we had the opportunity to hear from someone who has everyday involvement.  

Even more special – Bet Howrigan is a dairy farmer. I thought you might enjoy hearing her experience with FUTP60 and seeing how passionate she is.

For starters, tell me about your dairy farm.
HJ & A Howrigan and Sons Inc.  is a multigenerational family farm with four dairies and a maple operation in Franklin County, Vermont. We have three senior partners: Lawrence, Michael and Harold Howrigan with the good fortune of having six sons (Brendan, Harold III, Adam, Ryley, Cullen and Tim Howrigan) who have chosen to make up the seventh generation of Howrigans to farm this land.  Their wives, Lisa, Penny and Bet, (respectively) all work off the farm but are very much a part of the farm life when not at their other jobs. 

In 2017, we produced about 32 million pounds of high-quality milk. We do our own field work, currently cropping about 2,300 acres (1,500 hay-800 corn). We harvest our grass four to five times per year to achieve the highest protein, energy and digestibility possible. Our corn is harvested at optimal maturity with a finely tuned kernel processor to ensure the cows can utilize the silage effectively.

Tell me about your job at school. How long have you been teaching?
The Fairfield Center School is a PK-8 public school of just under 250 students in beautiful Fairfield, Vermont. We boast a vibrant outdoor classroom program that connects our children to the land through such activities as gardening and maple syrup production. Our students are honest, responsible, respectful, and ready to learn!

I was hired after college in 1983 and made my way to teaching first grade.  As our children came along, I no longer taught full time and became an “almost daily” substitute teacher. I have been back in the classroom full time for over 22 years and I am currently teaching third grade.  

When where you introduced to FUTP 60 and what was your reaction?
My husband is very active with dairy promotion and invited me to attend an annual meeting. When I arrived, the meeting was still going, so I perused the displays.  This was the first time I had heard of the program.

As I read the literature, I realized this was exactly the program for me to take back to FCS. I was already “known” for having an active classroom with movement breaks set into our daily routine. I was also the teacher who supplied her students with a healthy snack every day. Here was a program with data to back my beliefs AND now I could show it to the administration to make it a school-wide initiative.

How long has the program been running in your school?
We have had a FUTP60 team running activities, taste tests and changing our school into a healthier, more active community since 2010.  

How have you seen it evolve?
I am very proud of the FUTP60 program. We have had three state ambassadors and have sent six students to the national summit over the years.  I have taken groups to Gillette Stadium for the regional summit for the past three years. One ambassador and I were flown to the University of Virginia in 2013 to speak at a Youth-Next conference. The team has presented at the Vermont PE teachers conference and participated at the St. Albans Co-op annual meeting many times. Over the years, the team has promoted the program and its ideals in various school/community activities.  

We are one of the more popular groups at the school. Kids grow up watching the team and wait “impatiently” for it to be their turn. We have started an application process so we can have a “core team” to meet and plan.  Everyone can send ideas but, for logistical purposes, we limit the numbers. I start a junior team of fifth-graders every year to give them a taste of what can be.  

Our school community has embraced the program. Through the FUTP60 funding and the efforts of our teams, we now have “Grab and Go Breakfast in the Classroom” and “Breakfast after the Bell.” We serve very popular smoothies, we have an oatmeal bar, we serve hot chocolate and yogurt parfaits.

Fuel Up To Play 60 Breakfast Cart

We have gone from a weekly before-school “Get Up and Get Moving” activity to a five-day program that is run by the team members and their friends. We have 30 to 60 kids on any given day, and we have given the teachers support with in-class break ideas.  

Bet, this is awesome, and it is obvious your FUTP60 program is grounded in your school day. 

Were you faced with challenges over the years?
There were two major challenges.  The first is finding the time to meet with the team. We are very rural and transportation for students can be an issue. I wanted all students to have an equal opportunity to be a part of this group and having it during school was important to me. The teachers and administration have allowed me to work with the kids at lunch and recess times. It allowed some kids that had never been a part of a team to become enthusiastic members!

The other challenge was I had an administration for one year that did not back the program. It was extremely frustrating and we could have lost it if I had not had other supporters (my fellow teachers) to turn to.  

What were some of the “wins”?
It is hard to think of “wins” because so many good things have happened within our school through this program. Every year it is a different group of core team members and each group has brought us a “win.” Yes, we have been to Gillette Stadium, we have had Pat Patriot visit and we have had amazing ambassadors. Other wins include having smoothies, yogurt parfaits and more movement in the classrooms. We have an awesome “Active April Day” every year, and our Super Bowl week is a lot of fun and connects our school to the local food shelf. Anything the kids do to make our school community healthier and more active is a “win.” 

How does that make you feel, as a dairy farmer, to contribute to the dairy industry in this capacity?
I can’t thank the program enough for allowing me the opportunity to bring two of my loves together ---dairy and children. I get to introduce students to the importance of eating healthy, being active and stressing the importance of having dairy in their lives. I love that I can tell the story of my “other” life and answer some very good questions. I love that I can take a child to the farm (virtual or real) and find out from their parents that the information is going home. I love that I can have open dialogue with consumers that otherwise might not happen.  

What is your favorite FUTP 60 story over the years?
There are many but one that comes to mind is a combination of “Dairy in the Classroom” and FUTP60. My third-grade class was visiting our calf barn and everyone was extremely excited.  It was fall so, of course, there was manure spreading going on and we had fresh “dairy air.” The kids were not bothered by it and loved seeing the tractors. My boys were great at answering their questions about the cows, machines and the job being done.  

Later that week we had a Fuel Up to Play 60 Pizza Party and a father commented on the smell in the air. His son, who was my student, looked at his father and said “Dad!!! That is the smell of nutritious grass being grown for the cows to eat so they can continue to provide me with nutritious milk for my bones.” The father looked at me and said, “I’ve never thought of it like that.” Chalk one up to an 8-year-old!!!

Thank you, Bet, for your insight, stories and sharing your obvious passion about FUPT60. You certainly give us a unique perspective as a dairy farmer and an educator. I hope our readers enjoy the blog as much as I enjoyed the interview. Best to you and your FUTP60 team this year.

If you want to talk about Fuel Up To Play 60, I encourage you to reach out to me through talktomarilyn@dairy.org or leave a comment below.

If you’d like to join the Facebook conversation about the national dairy checkoff, ask to join the Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group.

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