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Lorraine Strenkowski

Freelance ~ A favorite pass-time. I'm so proud when I get the cover!

New England Farmer "Fuels Up" with New England Patriot 

by Lorraine Strenkowski

                Jeff and Alexis Cone of River Plain Dairy in Lebanon, CT, hosted Safety - Devon McCourty, #32 of the New England Patriots and the New England Dairy Council, as part of the "Fuel Up to Play 60" campaign. "Fuel Up to Play 60" is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program started by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture. The program empowers youth to "fuel up" with healthy foods (which includes dairy) and to be active for sixty minutes a day. McCourty "DMac" is a "Fuel Up to Play 60" Player Ambassador and is nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. This award is given for outstanding community service activities as well as excellence on the field. All 32 NFL teams are involved with "Fuel Up to Play 60," and since its inception, over 1,300 player visits have taken place.

                74,000 schools have implemented the program nationwide. "Fuel Up to Play 60" has public support from health and nutrition organizations including the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatrics, School Nutrition Association, and Feeding America. This program is sponsored locally by the New England Dairy & Foods Council and the New England Patriots. With nearly 3,700 schools in the New England states and more than 1,000 in Connecticut alone. McCourty is an advocate for eating a healthy breakfast and implementing breakfast programs in schools.

                Participation allows youth and schools to determine which tools and resources best match their own wellness/fitness goals and features easy enrollment and step-by-step support for both the adults and students. "Fuel Up to Play 60" continues its widespread popularity as it supports the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President and also shares the goals outlined in First Lady Michelle Obama's childhood obesity "Let's Move!" initiative.

                The Cone's "River Plain Dairy" was selected for the filming of "DMac Gives Back," a "CT Video Outline" and a 30 & 15 second WCVB 30 commercial (Boston), as the Cones were the recipients of the Green Pasture's Outstanding Dairy Farm of 2014 award. With 170 total acres, plenty of cropland and pastures, this 50 cow dairy was the perfect location.

                At 9:00am, on Wednesday, June 15, five members of the New England Food and Dairy Council (NEDFC) arrived with a film crew. Heidi Harkopf, MS,RD, a Nutrition Specialist and a twenty year veteran of NEDFC, is the Connecticut media spokesperson. Amanda Aldred also from Connecticut is a Registered Dietitian and School Nutrition Specialist who works on school based dairy promotion project groups for NEDFC. Stephanie Ferrari (NEDFC Communications Manager), Kiley Putnam (PR & Communications Specialist), and Carly Ciarletta (Marketing Manager) round out the team. The Council spent many weeks beforehand collaborating with the video/film crew/specialists to plan the event.

                The first order of business was to interview Jeff Cone. History of his farm was of utmost importance. Jeff is second generation; his father bought the property in 1969. Cone is one of eight children and they all worked the farm. He continues to maintain the "small family farm" that his father created. Cone still uses the original stanchion barn with pipeline transport to the milk room. "Cow comfort is key," says Cone. "Fans, cushions, shade and pasture are components that add to herd comfort. Comfort then increases production. It all works together."

                Alexis Cone had her time in front of the camera as well. She had never seen a cow in real life until she met Jeff. A self-proclaimed "city girl" from Fairfield, CT she embraces the farm life with gusto. Her humorous tales of daily experiences kept the audience engaged. Alexis volunteers her time by visiting schools with the Dairy Council, ensuring awareness of local farms. She passionately admits "It's an amazing life and I wouldn't have it any other way!"

                New England Patriot Devon McCourty "DMac" arrived promptly at noon with his wife Michelle. McCourty approached the small group and immediately introduced himself to each of the children first. He was quick with a handshake and a smile and put us all at ease. He was to be filmed, interviewed and scheduled to leave at 2:00pm. The crew got right to work. The NEDFC had scripts prepared and these had been emailed to Cone and McCourty ahead of time. With tents for lighting, microphone booms, cameras and monitors the director called "ACTION!"

                Completely comfortable in front of the camera McCourty recited his lines like a natural born actor. Cone was coached and encouraged and pulled off his lines with a winning smile. After several "takes" a quality commercial was produced. The backdrop was River Plain Dairy's hay barn. Built by Jeff's father with lumber right from the property itself, it stands with open doors showing off the first cutting of the season. The connection between farm produced fresh milk, (part of a healthy diet) and the 60 minutes of activity per day, was starting to take shape.

                With the commercial complete, Devon McCourty was invited to play a little football with Cone, his four children and another very special guest; Connecticut's own Student Ambassador for the "Fuel Up to Play 60" movement, 6th grade student William Mollow. Student leadership is a large part of this program. Active students can keep track of their involvement online to earn points. Those who reach 25,000 or 40,000 can apply for the Ambassador Program and the opportunity to attend the National Student Leadership Summit. Mollow's term ends this month (June-Dairy month) and his already selected successor will take over.

                When the cameras moved around the farm preparing the next location to film, I enjoyed listening in on the unscripted conversation between Cone and McCourty. The Patriot was completely engaged in his surroundings. Questions came, and Cone was a natural off camera, as he answered. The pride of his commitment to his family and the farm, shined through. He was at ease with his cohort and explained his small part in the larger picture. Again the importance of care to his cows was repeated along with explanations behind separate calf hutches and why he chooses to artificially inseminate for animal health and strength. "I'm proud to supply a quality product for our community. Fresh milk is truly a local product and it's important to me to keep my family as well as our next generation healthy. I give everything I can to my herd; they give it all right back." Cone states. The information did not fall on deaf ears, McCourty knew exactly what he meant, "It's all about teamwork, and I know all about that."