By Thomas French
2023 MDVA Outstanding YC

2023 — what a whirlwind of a year it’s been! I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity to serve as the Outstanding Young Cooperator (YC) for an organization that has meant so much to me over my life. When I saw the post to apply for Outstanding YC for Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers (MDVA), I thought “There’s no way I could win that. There are so many other dairy farmers that are better or more qualified than I am.” But with a little (read that: a lot of) convincing, I applied. Wouldn’t you know it, I was selected.

Going to the Annual Meeting and seeing all the amazing farmers that MDVA serves was so much fun. Every year I gain so much from the informational sessions and this year was no different. Hearing about the strengths of our industry and what we as dairy farmers can do to support it, as well as hearing about how our marketing team is expanding our Maola brand gives me pride in the cooperative that I am a member of.

My next opportunity as MDVA’s Outstanding YC was representing us at NMPF’s National Young Cooperator 2023 Dairy Policy and Legislative Forum in Washington, D.C. On the first day, we were trained on how to tell our story to our represented officials. I learned that representatives and senators desire to hear our story. We got to hear from Rep. David Valadao of California’s 22nd congressional district about how his background in dairy impacts his decisions in Congress. Did you know that he is one of the only active dairy farmers in Congress? On the second day, we took our newly refined skills to Capitol Hill. I had the chance to visit the office of five members of Congress, two from my home state of Virginia and three from the state of Maine. Each representative was extremely welcoming and receptive to the topics we came to talk with them about.

After the legislative week in Washington, D.C., I was able to attend MDVA’s YC Summer Break in High Point, North Carolina. The series of farm tours were information and fun. We toured N.C. A&T’s Research Farm, Grayhouse Farms, and Lovelea Farms. I’d heard a lot about N.C. A&T’s Dairy Program and I loved getting to hear all about their new Robotic Milking system and about how they are raising their calves. I also really enjoyed hearing about how our milk goes into high-quality ice cream products and seeing the process of how those ice cream products are tested through the presentation by MDVA’s Director of Quality Control.

One of the highlights of my time as Outstanding YC came from being able to attend the National Milk Joint Annual Meeting in sunny Orlando, Florida for the National YC Leadership and Development Program. I gained tremendous insight through the dairy farmers I connected with from around the United States. We had workshops to help us with the next steps in transition planning and how to mediate conflicts in family operations, which I’ve been able to bring back to my own operation. We got to do a farm tour of the largest beef cattle ranch in America, Deseret Ranch in Central Florida. They have over 42,500 cows that produce 36,000 calves every year. It was one of the coolest farm tours I’ve ever done!

My experience as MDVA’s Outstanding YC, combined with my engagement with other agriculture organizations, led me to be awarded the 2023 Virginia Cooperative Council Young Cooperator Award, which recognizes outstanding cooperative members under the age of 40. On the heels of winning this award, I was given another opportunity to represent our cooperative, but at the national level, by applying for the NMPF National YC Advisory Council. In December after the Joint National Milk meeting, it was announced that I had been selected for a spot on the 2024 Advisory Council. I hope that with this opportunity I can continue to grow my skills as a leader and give back to the program that helped me so much this year. I am excited to help shape the development opportunities YCs will experience in 2024.

As my year as MDVA’s Outstanding YC is winding down, one of the final events I was able to attend was the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s Legislative Dinner. I was able to stand at the Maola booth and hand out samples of our amazing chocolate and whole milk to my state legislators as well as other agricultural business leaders from across the state of Virginia. As a lead sponsor for the event, we were seated right next to Governor Youngkin and got to hear him talk about all the great things Virginia agriculture is doing for the state.

I am incredibly grateful that I got to represent Maryland & Virginia over the last year, and I hope that I was able to leave a lasting impression about our cooperative on all those I encountered along my journey. Thank you, Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, for the opportunity to represent you as your 2023 Outstanding YC and I hope to continue to make you proud on the National level program this year.

Current YC’s are able to nominate themselves or someone they know with the form located HERE.