Dairy farmers across the country have been forced to dump milk they can't sell into their fields – an awful waste of their hard work, and of valuable food.
But a new initiative called Farmers Feeding Families will soon get that surplus milk into the hands of local families that need it most.
A national cooperative that represents farms in Massachusetts will donate some 8,600 gallons of milk at an event Thursday at Boston College High School.
Beginning at 9 a.m., participants can drive or walk up to the school, located at 150 Morrissey Blvd. in Boston, and receive up to 2 gallons of free milk. Participants must wear face coverings during their visit.
The sponsors, Dairy Farmers of America, Vanguard Renewables and Massachusetts-based H.P. Hood, will also distribute milk to the Greater Boston Food Bank and other organizations that serve those in need.
The offering comes as dairy farmers nationwide struggle with a massive decline in the commercial dairy market precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. With schools and businesses closed, demand for milk has plummeted, leaving farmers without buyers for their supply.
Jordan Dairy Farms in Rutland pumps out about a million gallons of milk a year. But the coronavirus hit the farm hard. Owner Randy Jordan told NBC10 Boston he’s losing about a quarter of his annual income in sales.
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"I sit here and scratch my head," Jordan said Monday. "What are we gonna do? How are we gonna figure this out?"
Jordan pumps the milk he can't sell into a digester to produce renewable energy, but elsewhere, farmers have been forced to dump millions of gallons in their fields.
"For a dairy farmer, throwing away milk is like an artist throwing away a painting," said John Hanselman of Vanguard Renewables, a Wellesley company that spearheads food and dairy waste-to-energy projects, like the one at Jordan Dairy Farms.
Hanselman says few farms process their own milk. They bring the raw product to plants to be pasteurized and packaged, meaning most farmers can't just give it away. But Hanselman, who has a partnership with Dairy Farmers of America, a national coop, said many of the 34 DFA members in Massachusetts feel compelled to help their neighbors.
"Even though they're struggling, they know there are people that are worse off," he said.
Hanselman and the Dairy Farmers of America are working to get the surplus milk to people in need, and to non-profits like the Greater Boston Food Bank, which has seen demand nearly double during the pandemic.
"Milk is one of those items that just flies off our shelves," said Catherine Denner, a spokeswoman for the food bank.
Jordan and other farmers are donating about 10,000 gallons of milk for the new initiative. H.P., a major food and beverage manufacturer based in Charlestown, will process and package it, and members of the Massachusetts National Guard and Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will begin distributing it at Thursday's event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley and members of the Boston Police Department and Massachusetts State Police will also assist with the initiative. Polar Beverages and Nitco are also sponsors.
Jordan says he's an optimist by trade. And while giving away the milk feels good, it's not a long-term solution for dairy farmers who were already suffering from a trade war and lower milk prices.
He says subsidies could help. He hopes more people shop from local farms in the future, too.
"God willing, until the creeks rise, we'll do something to make it work," he said.