This year’s Tennessee legislature debated a long list of subjects from handguns to honey bees, but none of them was as “refreshing” as the content of Senate Bill 0912 and House Bill 0580 back in 2004, making milk the official beverage of Tennessee. Yes, that’s right. That liquid that comes from a cow and has given the majority of us strong bones since we drank it at our desk at school from glass bottles, was made the official beverage of the Volunteer State, ranking right up there with the raccoon as the official state wild animal and the tomato as the official fruit, but I wonder just how many of you remember that memorable day back on April 2, 2004.
I’m sure there are those who were surprised and would have thought maybe something made from corn and kept in a fruit jar or another vegetative crop would have received some votes, but the lowly milk cow’s milk was voted the official beverage unanimously by both governmental bodies as the top choice to represent our state seven years ago. I wonder how many tests, if any, that question has shown up on in schools in the last seven years. It ought to. It’s just as important for our students to know about milk as an official beverage of our state as a ladybug or an iris when it comes to state symbols. Having come from a dairy farm myself and with June being celebrated this year for the 79th year as Dairy Month, it is certainly good to recognize milk as our official beverage here in Tennessee. To add to this bit of dairy trivia, we should also remember and thank Senator Charlotte Burks, who is a farmer herself, and former Cookeville State Representative Henr y Fincher for carrying this legislation to their respective chambers and making milk our official beverage those few years ago.
June is National Dairy Month and has been a major celebration within the Volunteer State for many years. The dairy industry has generated billions of dollars over the years to our economy and continues to do so. Last year, more than $127.6 million was put back into Tennessee’s economy by Tennessee’s dairy production. In mid-May there were 481 dairy farms in Tennessee compared to over 900 at the same time in the year 2000. Numbers and production continue to decrease around the state, but those Tennessee dairy farmers who remain still produce perhaps the safest food product consumed in this country. From these dairy farms located in Tennessee, consumers receive a nutritious product containing nine essential vitamins and minerals, including protein, calcium and vitamins A and D. There are 8 milk processing plants in this state making the dairy industry very important to our state and we also will soon be the home to the world’s largest ice cream processing plant being located in Covington. Seventy-one percent of our milk produced in this state is on family dairy farms that have fewer than 200 cows. The average milk cow in the state will produce 5.29 gallons of milk a day. She will drink 35 gallons of water, eat 20 pounds of grain and feed, and 55 pounds of hay and silage, and chew her cud from 6 to 8 hours each day to produce those 6.1 gallons. The average cow produces 90 glasses of milk a day or enough milk to make 4.45 pounds of cheese. It takes more cows to produce milk annually for Pizza Hut cheese (about 170,000) than there are people living in Paducah, Ky., and Asheville, N.C., combined. With the average American eating 46 slices of pizza a year, it is important to keep our dairy farmers in business.
We all live in such a busy world that we often take for granted that every morning when we go to the breakfast table we will find milk and butter waiting on us as it always has in mornings past. But have you ever wondered how that food gets there and WHERE it comes from? Did you ever think that behind every glass of milk you drink there is a family farm somewhere working daily providing you a quality product? Celebrate with us this June and Pour One More glass a day and help us salute the dairy farm families in Tennessee providing milk, cheese and yogurt to you.
As you prepare to celebrate June Dairy Month and honor the farmers who produce milk, pour yourself a glass of Tennessee’s official beverage or at least get you an ice cream cone. It only takes about 50 licks to finish a single ice cream scoop. That’s not too much to ask is it?
– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Home & Farm magazine and Tennessee Farm Bureau News . He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org