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Facing Their Own COVID Crisis, Vermont Dairy Farmers Donate Milk

Meghan St. Pierre of Pleasant Valley Farms in Berkshire with some of the 2,500 gallons of milk she helped distribute in St. Albans on Friday.
John Dillon
Meghan St. Pierre of Pleasant Valley Farms in Berkshire with some of the 2,500 gallons of milk she helped distribute in St. Albans on Friday.

Vermont dairy farmers have donated thousands of gallons of milk to help the hungry even as they face their own COVID-19-driven financial crisis.

In St. Albans on Friday, Meghan St. Pierre wore a face mask decorated with cartoon cows as she handed out two gallons apiece to hundreds of people lined up in cars or on foot. St. Pierre’s family owns Pleasant Family Farms in Berkshire, one of the state’s largest dairy operations.

“It’s been busy since we started. The truck got here at 11:15, so we’ve had a lot of people,” she said.

Farmers have also been hit hard by the pandemic's economic fallout. With schools and restaurants closed, and cows to milk every day, they've sometimes been forced to dump milk. So St. Pierre said it felt good to hand out the free milk.

“People are struggling right now on every level,” she said. “And our dairy farm heard about this, and we wanted to help. … We were so excited to get this opportunity and come out in the community and distribute milk to consumers.”

Volunteers in St. Albans and Middlebury distributed 4,000 gallons donated by the Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy co-op that now owns the St. Albans Creamery. DFA was also involved in a larger donation of fluid milk and yogurt organized by the Agency of Agriculture, milk processors and the Vermont Foodbank.

Diane Bothfeld, the agriculture agency’s director of administrative services, said the effort was underwritten with a $60,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation. She said the milk was bottled at the HP Hood plant in Barre, and made into yogurt at Commonthwealth Dairy in Brattleboro.

She added that the milk donation won't fully ease the milk surplus. But the food won't go to waste, and farmers will get paid for it.

“Dairy farmers are taken care of. The processing facilities are taken care of, and the Foodbank gets the product, so a triple win across the board,” she said.

Bothfeld said the initial donation will include 11,500 gallons of milk, and 42,000 cups of yogurt. The Foodbank, which serves more than 153,000 people annually, reported a 100% increase in demand since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Copyright 2020 Vermont Public Radio

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier. John was honored with two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards in 2007 for his reporting on VPR. He was the lead reporter for a VPR series on climate change that in 2008 won a national Edward R. Murrow award for continuing coverage. In 2009, John's coverage of an asbestos mine in northern Vermont was recognized with a regional investigative reporting award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.