by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
When Ariel Staffin was a youngster her sister really wanted a dog.
“My parents said they didn’t want any pets in the house, but that she could join a 4-H club to work with animals. She chose dairy cows,” said Ariel, currently a senior at Bridgewater Raritan High School. “Her logic was that they were the biggest animals on the fair grounds. And I followed in her footsteps a few years later.”
Despite never having lived on a farm, Ariel has been working with and showing cows for 10 years through a lease program that began in 1980. This program provides non-farm kids opportunities to obtain hands-on experience working with animals.
Staffin says she found out about the Dairy Princess program through her involvement with the 4-H.
“I gave a little speech about cows at the 2010 New Jersey State Dairy Princess Coronation and ever since then I’ve always wanted to be dairy princess.”
In June 2017 her dream came true.
“I was crowned the Somerset County Dairy Princess and then in November I competed for and was crowned the New Jersey State Dairy Princess.”
As part of her reign Staffin visits elementary grade schools to give presentations on benefits and importance of dairy in daily diets.
“My main presentation is about how you can use milk to fulfill your needed calcium intake and how it compares to other food. For example, you would need to eat six oranges to get the same amount of calcium as a single 8 oz. glass of milk. I have the kids make a little checklist wipe-off board so that they can keep track of eating the recommended three dairy products a day.”
Staffin also promotes dairy at agricultural events. She has had displays at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, where she volunteered in the Calving Corner answering questions about dairy cows and the calving process; she attended the Agricultural Ambassadors Dinner at the New Jersey Vegetable Growers Convention, attended the New Jersey Junior Holstein Association Dinner where she served milk punch and presented a milk toast, and attended a ribbon cutting event for a yogurt parfait bar promoting healthy breakfast diets, at Bloomfield Middle School, where former NY Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer was featured for a ‘Fuel Up To Play 60’ event.
“Usually when I’m promoting dairy, I explain to people why it’s good for them and how they can easily incorporate more dairy into their daily diets.”
Staffin says currently a hot topic is lactose intolerance. “There is a common misconception that almond or soy drink is a substitute for milk. It’s not, because it does not have the nutritional value of dairy. Better alternatives are Lactaid or Fairlife which are lactose-intolerant friendly, while still containing dairy benefits.”
Ariel has thought considerably about the recent decline of dairy consumption in the United States.
“To reverse the current decline in dairy consumption, I would not try to change people’s diets, but rather I would inform them on how they can include more dairy in their current diets. The recommended daily dairy intake is three servings per day, and many people don’t know that their favorite foods can be made even better with dairy.”
For example, Ariel says she is a huge fan of chocolate milk.
“I am a big hot chocolate drinker, but I make it with milk instead of water so that I can get my dairy intake while still enjoying a tasty favorite. Pasta lovers can enjoy macaroni and cheese, or they can put cheese on top of their pasta. Sprinkle cheese is also a really good addition to salads. Fruit smoothies and breakfast shakes can be made with milk or yogurt. Many people don’t realize that incorporating more dairy into their diet does not require a huge diet reform, it simply involves some creativity.”
A big target audience in this issue is kids, because they tend to be pickier with what they eat. It’s a common misunderstanding that if a kid doesn’t like drinking plain white milk, they won’t consume dairy. That’s definitely not true. First of all, if a kid doesn’t like 1 percent milk, they may like fat free, 2 percent or whole milk. They may also enjoy chocolate milk better. If they really are not milk drinkers, maybe they’ll enjoy yogurt, cheese sticks, or other tasty dairy snacks. Milk can be used instead of water in hot cocoa, as mentioned before, and oatmeal. Even ice cream, while it shouldn’t be one’s only dairy intake every day, does provide dairy. There are plenty of ways to mix dairy into diets for both kids and adults, and as soon as more people realize that, the decline of dairy consumption will reverse.”
So how does a non-farm girl’s family feel about her diving into the dairy farm life?
“I am so proud of Ariel, and absolutely thrilled that she has the opportunity to represent and advocate for the dairy industry — something for which she has had a passion for years,” said Ariel’s mom, Chris Staffin. “I have really enjoyed watching her confidence, poise and creativity blossom as she has taken part in dairy events through out New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.”
Chris says not only is the ADADC Dairy Princess program a “wonderful medium” that educates consumers about benefits of dairy, “It also gives these young women the opportunity to gain experience in important life skills such as public speaking, advocacy, networking and event planning.”
As a mom of the New Jersey State Dairy Princess, Chris offers a bit of advice to other moms.
“I would advise any mom who has a daughter thinking about pursuing the Dairy Princess Program to support her any way you can. Yes, being a dairy princess is a time commitment, but the rewards are so worth it! The confidence, poise and life skills she will develop are priceless. I would also strongly urge parents to go to the events with their princesses. Seeing Ariel in action has been so rewarding for me. Plus, let’s face it, meeting Amani Toomer was fun too.”
New Jersey has six counties participating in the Dairy Princess Program at this time. The program has been in place for 55 years.
Interested in the Dairy Princess Program? Find out more at www.americandairy.com/dairy-farms/dairy-princesses.stml.
Advocating dairy in New Jersey with State Dairy Princess Ariel Staffin
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin