This month we celebrate National Dairy Month and honor dairy producers across the nation who work day and night to make sure that we have a safe, affordable and healthy dairy supply.

We know that dairy producers and processors are a critical part of an American agriculture sector that accounts for 1 in 12 American jobs while ensuring that Americans spend less of their disposable income on food than the people of any other developed nation.

But what many Americans don’t know is that our dairy farmers are doing even more behind the scenes to contribute to healthy communities and a healthy planet. This spring I had the opportunity to see this contribution firsthand when I made two visits to dairy farms on opposite ends of the country.

The first was Zimmerman Dairy in Queen Creek, AZ where Bill and Vicki Zimmerman gave me a tour of their farm that has been in the family since 1923 and proudly displayed their newest efforts to contribute to a healthy planet. Bill and Vicki recently installed a 242 kWH solar energy system on their dairy – cows to the left, solar panels to the right! In talking with Bill and Vicki they made clear that in looking to pass the farm on to their son and the next generation of Zimmermans they needed to look to the future. With this investment in renewable energy, their dairy farm is helping to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and contributing to a healthy planet.

On the opposite side of the country in Auburn, NY, Oakwood Dairy and owners Ted and Kelly Ohara are working to protect the land and create a healthy planet through conservation practices. Their farm is leading the way in implementing sustainable practices including acres of buffer strips to filter manure and nutrients applied on the land before they reach nearby water courses. They are also harnessing new energy saving technology on the farm that will allow them eliminate the use of more than 12,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.

These are just two of the many examples from across the country. The fact is there are no better stewards of the land than those who depend on it for a living – and our dairy farmers are proof of that.

So this month as you enjoy a glass of milk, an ice cream cone or any other dairy product, please join me in saying ‘thank you’ to the dairy farmers.