Dairy Princesses Visit New York Schools

The princesses visiting New York schools aren’t wearing crowns or looking for glass slippers. The fairy tale for these “dairy princesses” is the story of farmers, cows, milk and farm life.

Shelby Benjamin, one of more than two dozen dairy princesses in New York, teaches students about the dairy industry as part of her job with the American Dairy Association North East. Her journey started as a teenager, showing a cow at a local county fair and realizing there was so much more to the dairy industry to learn and share.

Shelby Benjamin

“I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I really liked the dairy industry,” said Shelby Benjamin, “Farmers don’t have time to leave the animals and talk to people about what they do, so that’s what we do as dairy princesses.” They play games with students to test their knowledge about dairy farms and teach about how cows are taken care of, how much milk they can produce and the important nutrients found in milk.

“I played a true/false game with one group of students and they were surprised to learn that one cow can produce more than 100 glasses of milk a day,” said Benjamin. The dairy princesses recently visited Lemoyne Elementary School in the Syracuse City School District.

“This really opened the kids’ eyes to more forms of dairy and let them learn more about the difference between fruit and dairy,” said Rachel Murphy-Vien, Syracuse City School District nutrition director. “It was great how the dairy princesses helped the students connect with the food they are eating and drinking. They didn’t realize dairy comes in multiple shapes and sizes and not just in the milk carton.”

Benjamin talked to Lemoyne students about nearby dairy farms where some of the school’s milk comes from, something many students (and some teachers!) weren’t aware of.

The dairy princess also work with school nutrition departments, offering menu suggestions such as yogurt parfaits and smoothies.  Benjamin talks about the nutrients in milk and how it gets from the farm to a school lunch.

“We want our children to have healthy exposure to food and know that the food comes from somewhere and hopefully that will help them have healthy lifelong habits,” said Murphy-Vien.  “This is a partnership from day one that has been beneficial to the students; we look forward to incorporating more New York Thursdays into our menus,” said Murphy-Vien. Foods grown in the Empire State are brought into public school cafeterias every Thursday to help students learn about what they eat from local farms and dairies.

The dairy princesses don’t just visit rural schools, during a visit to a New York City school, Benjamin met students who had never seen cows in person. She’s had students ask if brown cows produce chocolate milk and others not realize the cheese on their pizza was a dairy product.

“I also tell the students about how the farmers recycle while taking care of the cows,” said Benjamin. “The cow’s manure is a valuable resource on a farm. It can be used as a fertilizer on the farm and as bedding for a cow.”

The American Dairy Association North East works on behalf of dairy farmers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia and parts of northern Virginia. Dairy princesses do in-person and virtual visits to schools and in the near future, the program will be open to both young men and young women, who will serve as Dairy Ambassadors.  

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