Facing Their Own COVID Crisis, Vermont Dairy Farmers Donate Milk
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