The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy honored the Michigan Milk Producers Association, the Kroger Co. of Michigan and Michigan State University Extension for collaborating to support families during the 2016 Flint water emergency. Because of the collaboration, food-insecure families in Flint received over 36,000 gallons of milk to help block lead absorption. For our efforts, we received an honorable mention for their U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award of Outstanding Achievement in Community Partnerships.
We appreciate the honor and hope that the national recognition goes even farther than an award we put on the shelf and feel good about. This won’t be the first or last emergency in our communities in Michigan or nationwide. We hope that the national spotlight on our partnership will give other organizations ideas of ways that they can partner to meet community needs, especially in a crisis. We hope to continue to bring the right people together to help solve complex problems, and inspire others to do the same.
To read more about how our collaboration came together, take a look at my blog post, “Getting Nutritious Milk to Flint: They Make It Look Easy.”
On January 18, I was in a meeting with Ken Nobis, president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA). Because it was our first time in the same room, we began with some informal conversation about the big news item of the day ‒ the Flint water crisis. When I mentioned that our staff members were working with residents to ensure they have access to foods high in calcium and iron, both of which block the absorption of lead, Ken was quick to point out that milk is high in calcium and 96 hours later, 12,000 gallons of nutritious milk was delivered to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. About 2,000 dairy farm families from the MMPA donated the milk, Kroger Co. of Michigan led the processing of the milk and packaging into gallon jugs, and Quickway provided the transportation of the milk to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan for distribution. Shortly after that, it was distributed to Flint residents.
That’s the power of Michigan State University Extension. We bring the right people together to help solve complex problems. In this case, I did very little. But it got the wheels turning. In fact, on National Ag Day, March 15, a second delivery of 12,000 gallons of 2 percent milk was delivered to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan for distribution among families affected by the Flint water crisis. This time, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan joined the MMPA, and Kroger and banded together to help a city in need.
Good nutrition is important to everyone but it is especially important for families affected by lead contamination. Our health and nutrition team has been vigilant in demonstrating the need for good nutrition during this public health crisis. Making sure that nutritious foods, such as milk, are available to the residents of Flint is key to recovery. We are proud that our partners in agriculture, including the MMPA, are helping in that recovery.
Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is providing adaptable programming to meet the specific and urgent needs of the people of Flint. Through cooking demonstrations and instruction from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ‒ Education (SNAP-Ed) on purchasing and preparing healthy foods, we have been disseminating nutrition information to help block lead absorption. Through our Master Gardeners and edible flint, we’ve taught about growing healthy food in lead-contaminated soils and water. Through the 4-H dog, rabbit and cavy clubs, we’ve led discussions in caring for animals exposed to lead. Through early childhood development education, we’ve identified the importance of using play to combat lead effects. We have also developed the Fight Lead Exposure site to provide important resources and information to the people of Flint and the state at large.
We have been facilitating partnerships with those wanting to pitch in and help. We appreciate the resource donations from the Michigan Milk Producers and the Michigan Vegetable Growers. We are also grateful to MSU Athletics and MSU students, faculty and alumni that have donated their time volunteering. The Food Bank Council of Michigan and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan have been an essential partner in our efforts.
Why does Extension have such an important role to play? We have been serving the people of Flint since 1913 and have built an essential level of trust. MSU Extension has strong partnerships with county government, health and nutrition, agriculture, 4-H and early childhood development, which makes us a presence that can adapt to specific and urgent needs in the community. Not just in Flint, but across Michigan.
Now, more than ever, MSU Extension is in the state and national spotlight. For example, everyone who received the email invitation to the Democratic Debate on Sunday, March 6, received the MSU Extension “Fight Lead With Nutrition” handout attached by the Democratic National Committee Debate Team. Our work was recognized by the national debate team putting the event together. The effects and range of our outreach are growing. Remember that it is important that each link in our organization be strong and ready to respond to the next crisis or need in our communities.