By Jillian Jorgensen
It could be the biggest legislative fight in Concord this year: milk or cider?
Well, maybe not. But the debate over what beverage should be New Hampshire's official drink is heating up.
After being lobbied by three students at Jaffrey Grade School, state Rep. Bonnie Mitchell has introduced a bill to make apple cider the state's official drink. In a state where taxes, budgets and seat belt laws are hotly debated, it does not seem like the type of bill to drum up much opposition.
Try telling that to Jeremy LaChance, a fourth-grader at Gilford Elementary School. He thought the drink should be milk, since kids have it at school every day.
Mitchell, D-Jaffrey, said the "milk people" are bringing forward an amendment to her bill to make milk the official drink.
"Milk is a very fine drink," she said. "It's just that there are 19 other states with milk as an official drink."
"Not only that, but my students contacted me last spring and I filed the legislation. And now the milk people are bringing it in as an amendment. And I was there first," Mitchell said with a laugh.
Mitchell said she also thought that naming cider the official drink could be a good economic tool, leading to sales of proudly labeled New Hampshire cider.
"We would be the first state in the nation to have it as the official drink," she said. "And New Hampshire has a tradition of being first in the nation."
There are not many dairy cows in Southern New Hampshire anymore. But there are plenty of apple orchards, where growers say they sell plenty of cider. Most small farms nearby do not pasteurize their cider, so by law they can only sell it from their own farmstands.
"During apple season, we sell a ton of it," said Mike Cross, farm manager at Mack's Apples in Londonderry.
He said they press cider all winter long and have a steady base of customers coming in each week to get their fix, with sales increasing at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"I got nothing against the milk guys," Cross said. "But I guess my vote would be for cider."
Gretchen Hicks at Sunnycrest Farms in Londonderry agreed.
"I think it would be a wonderful choice," she said. "We have so many apple orchards and apple cider is a natural byproduct."
She said Sunnycrest sells a lot of cider. But while they do not have their own cows, the farm does sell local milk, and she had plenty of friends in the dairy business.
"What I love is the kids are getting involved, and they're two healthy drinks," Hicks said.
Amy Hall, director of Granite State Dairy Promotion, said it was great to see the two options both be agricultural products.
"For obvious reasons, my loyalty as director of Granite State Dairy Promotion would be milk," she said.
She said the push to make milk the state's official beverage was welcome publicity for dairy farmers in the state, who have been struggling this year with low milk prices. She said although milk offers nine essential nutrients, cider offers some things milk does not.
"Why couldn't New Hampshire have two state drinks?" she said. "Cider the official juice and milk the official dairy drink."
She said the main story should be that students are so involved in both government and agricultural products.
"I'm just proud of the students," she said. "I'm excited that they're really involved in an in-depth process about how bills are made and passed."
While some people may think there are more important issues to be debated in Concord, Mitchell said she cannot think of anything more important than getting citizens — including youngsters — involved in the political process.
"I think it'll be great fun, and it'll also be a great lesson for the students that always in the legislative process you have different opinions and this is how you go about winning your case," she said. "I think, assuming that we do it correctly, it will be a good lesson for them in the future about how they get their opinions known and legislated."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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