With the average age of the American farmer at 58 years old, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is important to find ways to inspire and motivate the next generation of American growers.
Because of this, Melinda Litvinas, manager of the University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery, and Jake Hunt, a 2012 UD graduate, were among the 15 individuals from across the country honored as 2014 White House Champions of Change for their work providing hands on learning experiences for young people to learn about cow to cone operations and the processes of running a business and engaging the community.Litvinas said that receiving the award was very exciting and humbling and that she was proud to be among the eclectic group of individuals chosen for the award. Through the UDairy Creamery, Litvinas provides student interns and employees the opportunity for unique learning experiences. Some of the students, especially those who study in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, get exposed to the dairy farm and can be a part of the milking or feeding process although Litvinas said that “most UDairy Creamery students are involved in the food science, food safety, product development and entrepreneurship aspects of the creamery.” Hunt, who served as the creamery’s assistant manager intern when he was studying at UD, is now the managing partner at Windy Brow Farms LLC and the Cow’s Brow Creamery in Newton, New Jersey. Of one of her former employees receiving the award, Litvinas said, “It was nice. It was very full circle. I’m so proud of what he’s been doing in his life and he really appreciates his experience here and with the creamery and us working together. I am so proud of him and what he’s been doing. It’s really exciting when students actually graduate from here that have been involved with the creamery and go on to do amazing things on their own.” Litvinas and Hunt traveled to Washington, D.C., on Monday, July 28, and stayed until Tuesday, July 29. They began their trip with a celebration at the U.S. Senate buildings and served ice cream to Delaware’s U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, their staff members and Homeland Security staff members at the Senate. “We had ice cream there and they gave different speeches and it really made us feel appreciated for what we’ve been doing for the last few years,” said Litvinas. The event was also arranged to bring attention to the 100th anniversary of Cooperative Extension, something Litvinas also did by bringing the Cooperative Extension Centennial Cherry Chunk flavor to serve, alongside UDairy Creamery staples such as Delaware River Mud Pie and First State Cobbler. They spent the rest of the afternoon at the USDA and listened to panel discussions organized by the Krysta Harden, deputy director of the federal agency. An evening reception followed at which they served ice cream to all of the Champions of Change awardees. “It was a nice little social hour to meet everyone and find out what everyone is doing,” said Litvinas. The next day, the group listened to two keynote speakers, Cecilia Munoz, assistant to President Barack Obama and director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Sam Kass, executive director of Let’s Move! and senior policy adviser for nutrition policy. They were then recognized for their achievements. The group was split into two different panels, one for current farmers and ranchers and one concerning the future of agriculture, on which Litvinas and Hunt served. “We discussed what we are doing and how we think that the government and the USDA can help us continue our projects and advancements and get the next generation involved in the future of agriculture,” said Litvinas. The day wrapped up with the champions taking a tour of the White House and grounds, including the gardens, the vegetable garden and the north lawn. This was an experience that Litvinas said she will never forget. “The whole White House experience was great, especially in this day and age. Many people don’t get to have that experience that we did, to be allowed on the grounds of the White House and be behind the gate. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Litvinas said that she also enjoyed talking with Carper and Coons. “Having some real discussions with the Delaware senators was really, really neat, and both the senators seem genuinely interested in the UDairy Creamery’s future.” Article by Adam Thomas This article can also be viewed on UDaily.