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Gilford students testify for happy cows and healthy kids



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Kellie Ryan, Jeremy Lachance and Cole Winkelmann (Front L-R) campaigned outside the New Hampshire Legislative building in Concord last Thursday to name milk the state drink. Dawn LaChance and her husband Jeremy helped out with more posters and a cow costume to draw attention to their endeavor. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
February 10, 2010
Chants of "Make him a happy cow" were heard outside the State Legislative Building in Concord Thursday morning as three Gilford Elementary School fourth graders demonstrated briefly with posters and a good-natured dad in a cow costume before going inside to testify in favor of making milk the state drink.

Jeremy LaChance, Cody Winkelmann and Kellie Ryan testified before the House Environment and Agriculture Committee, following three students from Jaffrey Grade School who had introduced House Bill 1206 proposing apple cider as the state's official drink. The Gilford students felt the bill should be amended to milk instead of cider or perhaps compromise to make cider the state's fruit beverage and milk the state drink.

In their campaign for milk, the Gilford students have been working hard, garnering support from New Hampshire dairy farmers, state representatives, fellow students and others who believe milk is the healthier drink. They even received emails backing their efforts from as far away as the United Kingdom when their story hit the Internet in early January.

As they stood outside the Legislative Building early Thursday morning, several people, including Representative Bill Johnson of Gilford, stopped to wish them luck with their campaign. Peter Bolster and Jeff St.Cyr, two representatives from District 5 who have been guiding the three through the political process, also paused to offer some last minute advice.

"Be positive. There are many people on the committee who are concerned about the dairy industry. Relax and have fun," Bolster told them.

Once inside a packed committee hearing room, Chairman Tara Sad lead the proceedings and introduced the Jaffrey school group that initiated the bill. State Representative Bonnie Mitchell had assisted with the three students from Jaffrey and began their testimony, pointing out 18 other states already had milk as their official drink.

"New Hampshire should be unique, not one of the crowd with the other 18 states," Mitchell said.

The Jaffrey group talked about the history of apple orchards and the significance of the industry to state economy. They also took a moment to speak against the milk amendment when one student agreed with Mitchell's point, saying New Hampshire would become "one of the herd" if milk became the official drink.

After a brief recess to allow for a television interview with all six students, the Gilford group was given the chance to make their case for milk.

Before the trio began testimony, Cody approached Chairman Sad and offered her a choice between a bottle of regular or chocolate milk. He explained it wasn't intended as a bribe, but meant as goodwill. As she chose the chocolate milk, the gesture brought smiles and good-natured laughter from the committee.

One by one they made their point that milk is a healthier choice.

Jeremy spoke first for the Gilford students, accentuating the healthy aspects of milk. He cited an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article that said a glass of milk in the morning, rather than a fruit drink, helps people feel full longer and therefore prevents snacking and overeating during the day.

As part of Kellie's testimony, she said milk reduces the risk of bone fractures through the calcium it provides. Studies have also shown people who drink milk have better overall diets, she told the committee.

When it was Cole's turn, he pointed out milk was important as a year-round industry in the state while apple cider production occurs mainly in the fall. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, he added, recently partnered with the Granite State Dairy Association to support of milk as the official drink.

"Dairy products, milk being one, are a key element in a healthy and balanced diet. Our parents don't say 'Drink your apple cider so you can grow up and be big and strong,'" he said.

Cole concluded their testimony by countering the comment about the uniqueness of making apple cider the state drink.

"Being unique only lasts until the next person follows. Being healthy lasts a lifetime. Thank you for your time," he said.

Fielding questions from the representatives afterwards, they were asked by one member what the sugar content in flavored milk was since that was their argument against cider.

"We're trying to make it milk, not chocolate milk. She wanted the chocolate," Jeremy responded, with a smile as he gestured toward the chairman.

Kellie added that cider not only has sugar but contains only one vitamin, Vitamin C, while milk holds much more nutritional value with the added benefits of calcium and Vitamin D.

Representative Leigh Webb of Franklin broached the topic of compromise, asking the Gilford students how they would feel if the committee came up with a way to make both the official state drink. All three heartily agreed that a compromise, from their standpoint, would be fine.

"Everybody wins then. We just wanted to learn from this, have a good experience and have fun with it," Jeremy said.

The bill will now be considered and voted on by the Environment and Agriculture Committee before moving on to the full body of the House. The process could take some time, but win, lose or draw, LaChance, Ryan and Winkelmann felt they walked away winners through a campaign well-fought and an educational experience they would never have found in a classroom.

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