Whole Milk Gallon Challenge: Titusville couple uses ‘stimulus’ payment to bless, educate, inspire

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Jake and Casey Jones wanted to bless and educate their community with a Whole Milk Gallon Challenge they hope will inspire others.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 8, 2020

TITUSVILLE, Pa. – Whole Milk Gallon Challenge? It’s not a milk-chugging contest. It’s a way to bless the community, support local farms, educate the public, involve the school district, and get people talking about the choice of whole milk for healthy kids, healthy families, healthy communities.

Jake and Casey Jones of Titusville, Pennsylvania held their first Whole Milk 500 Gallon Challenge at the local middle school last Friday, May 1. They purchased 500 gallons of whole milk from a local bottler and 500 educational handouts through 97 Milk and worked with the Titusville Area School District to set up a drive-through in a parking lot adjacent to where families pick up school meals on Fridays.

The response was overwhelming and the gratitude from the community, humbling.

It all began when the CARES Act passed by Congress resulted in COVID-19 ‘stimulus’ payments to Americans last month. Jake, a territory manager for Mycogen, was still working full time in agriculture and had not been asked to take a pay cut. As the ‘stimulus’ credit showed up in their bank account, they were seeing farms forced to dump milk.

They decided to use the ‘stimulus’ funds to do something that would have an impact on their community and local dairy farms.

Both Jake’s and Casey’s parents have dairy farms, and they are involved in Jake’s parents’ farm. They saw the level of losses, revenue down 30% in a month and down potentially 60% by June. They had previously contacted Farmshine about the whole milk choice in schools petition  and they were seeing schools provide meals during COVID-19 closures.

At first, they thought they could donate whole milk for the school to give out with meals. However, the USDA waivers for that were only in force for the month of April, and the process was complicated. Schools had to prove the fat-free or 1% milk was not available.

“We were frustrated — always hearing reasons why you can’t do this or that, when it comes to milk. We were tired of seeing and accepting roadblocks,” Jake related in a Farmshine phone interview this week. “We decided to find a way to do what we could to impact the situation. We feel incredibly blessed, and this felt like the right thing to do — putting the ‘stimulus’ money to something bigger to hand out a gallon of whole milk separately, but in conjunction with the school lunch system.”

Now they are hoping to inspire others to keep do the same.

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Jake and Casey Jones (left), along with (l-r) student volunteer Joey Banner, Titusville Area School District superintendent Stephanie Keebler, school maintenance manager Garret Rose (front), and Ralph Kerr (not pictured) from Titusville Dairy helped make the Whole Milk Gallon Challenge successful.

In April, one of the first contacts they made was to the Titusville Area School District superintendent Dr. Stephanie Keebler. “We told her our idea, and she immediately jumped on board as one of our biggest supporters,” the couple confirmed.

“Jake reached out to me by email, and it was just amazing, very generous,” said Keebler in a phone interview. “They worked collaboratively with their church (Pleasantville Presbyterian) and the milk board and with our local Titusville Dairy and the manager Ralph Kerr to acquire the milk.”

Keebler coordinated things on the school end to make sure they distributed the whole milk in a way that would not put their foodservice program at risk (low-fat rules) and got building maintenance, Garret Rose, involved to set up the traffic flow for safety.

The school has been serving 450 to 650 individual students’ two meals a day since the COVID-19 closures. Meals are grouped for pickup on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at three locations.

“When you talk about the critical need we have within our community, our foodservice people have been fantastic. They have never taken a day off and there has been no lapse in service for our families,” Keebler indicated.

By Tuesday, April 28, the Joneses had the details set. Keebler used the district’s all-call technology to notify the families of the district’s 1,915 students to let them know about the milk distribution.

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A steady flow of cars came through the Titusville Area middle school parking lot Friday as the Whole Milk Gallon Challenge was set up at the front of the school as meals were picked up at the back.

“As families drove in the back through the bus loop for the meals, we reminded them to enter the front and follow the driving pattern to where they had the refrigerated truck with the milk,” Keebler related.

Jake and Casey, with two young children at home, were assisted by a student volunteer Joey Banner in handing out the gallons and information cards. He was enthused about the challenge too.

“We are extremely grateful they reached out with this idea. The ease of collaboration between the family and the district pulled off a very successful event. Developing relationships and connecting with the community is vital,” Keebler noted.

On the milk end, Ralph Kerr and the Titusville Dairy team were instrumental, according to Jake. They provided logistics, the refrigerated truck and put them in touch with Marburgers Dairy to arrange the purchase of the milk.

“Once we had the green light, setting up the logistics went fast. We wanted every gallon of whole milk to have a handout with information,” he added. “We wanted to bless and educate at the same time, while building some ground level support for the choice of whole milk in schools.”

Other than the school district’s automated call to student families, the Joneses did not advertise the event. Until Friday.

“We did a facebook post at 10:30 a.m. that morning, knowing the school lunch pickup was set for 11 a.m. By 10:35 a few vehicles were lining up,” Jake explained. “As the first few cars drove through, we told people to let their friends and neighbors know. By 11:00 a.m., we had a big rush, and then it was steady. People were excited and asking questions.”

After the school meal pickup ended at 12:30, traffic hit a lull. That’s when their facebook post and word-of-mouth drove visitors in from the community.

“Grandparents said their grandchildren told them to come see us. People drove through saying neighbors told them or that they saw it on facebook,” Jake reflected. “We had a massive second rush of people, and some asked for extra gallons so they could take to others.”

It was gratifying to see the blessing multiply.

By 3:30, they had given out 408 gallons of whole milk and contacted the local Associated Charities to receive the remaining 92 gallons.

“The director pulled in to pick those up as we were cleaning up. She told us ‘you have no idea how many people ask for dairy products — especially milk.’ She was also excited about the 97 Milk cards, to learn something new about whole milk and to give them out with their meal boxes,” said Jake.

“By the end of the day we were exhausted, but amazed,” said Casey, and by the evening, they heard from someone involved in agriculture who was inspired to provide funding for another Whole Milk Gallon Challenge if Jake and Casey would help with logistics.

“That’s phase two of our mindset, that anyone can do this,” said Jake. “Whether it’s 500 gallons or 200 gallons or 100, or maybe it’s 200 ice cream cones — to be creative and give not just based on financial need, but as something positive, uplifting and informative for the community.”

While they were distributing, parents were already posting their appreciation on social media. Jake and Casey updated everyone with a post later that day, and it spread through over 200 shares, nearly 500 likes and over 100 comments in short order. Local families contacted them with thanks, and children sent cards.

“Seeing the gratitude, that’s when it hit us,” Casey observed. “This was impactful, and it touched people.”

“It was based on the spirit of things, not the money or financial need, but something positive that everyone could be excited about and thankful for, because it was cool and different,” Jake added. “Handing out the 97 Milk cards (item #400 at the download area at 97milk.com) with each gallon of whole milk was pretty powerful. We saw people mesmerized, looking at them.”

All printable items at 97milk.com have the cost and printer contact information noted. The Joneses ordered on a Friday and had them by mail that Tuesday.

The printer even included some extra cards they made available to local stores interested in putting them out.

“What started as a gesture, opened up a ‘conversation’ with the education piece,” Jake related. “If the public is not educated about whole milk, then all the pushing in the world won’t make the choice of whole milk in schools happen.”

“We want to keep things happening in this town, and it can happen elsewhere,” Casey suggested.

“That’s the challenge,” Jake added. “If someone picks up the idea into other towns, states, with heavier population. Maybe a few families, a business, a group, take on the Whole Milk Gallon Challenge together and build some interest to get schools and families talking.”

Most important, said Jake: “If you are feeling you want to do something but think you can’t do enough, just do what you can. If a handful of people each do a little something – together — in a lot of different places, a lot can be accomplished.”

His advice? First, contact a local bottler. “Google to find a plant in your area or region. Start there. It was very easy once we talked to the people at Titusville Dairy and Marburgers,” Jake advised. “By using a local bottler, the local community gains more bang for your buck in supporting local farms.

“If you are not involved in agriculture and want to do this in your community, ask a local farm where they ship their milk,” Jake suggested.

“Many farms have facebook pages, look for one in your area and contact them that way about milk bottlers in the area,” Casey added.

Other advice: Call an area food bank or charity ahead of time to have a place for remaining milk. Pre-set the hours to a tighter window, like 11 to 2. Start publicizing 4 to 5 days in advance. And work with your local school district.

“Schools have big parking lots with traffic patterns already in place, and they can help you set up a safe flow of traffic and a way of communicating it to families in the district,” Jake said. “Plus, getting the school involved — superintendent, building manager, foodservice — increases awareness and gets them thinking and talking about whole milk.”

“It has to be whole milk with the educational component for the long-term impact,” said Casey. “Our mindset was to buy the milk and give it away, along with the information.”

“Let people know this is as much a gift as an educational thing, and that all are welcome to receive,” Jake concluded. “Don’t be intimidated by a number, just do what you can.

“We would challenge all of us to do what we can because we can all be doing more.”

To contact Jake and Casey Jones for information and advice to do a Whole Milk Gallon Challenge, email them at Jake.t.jones46@gmail.com

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May 1, 2020 was ‘food heroes’ day — a national day to honor school nutrition personnel. In Titusville, Pa., cars had brightly colored signs of thanks for their every day food heroes at the school preparing meals for pickup, and for the milk heroes providing gallons of whole milk to their community.

USDA’s $19 bil. aid package announced, awaiting details

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two days after describing the “bare shelves” in supermarkets as a “demand issue not a supply issue,” and stating that, “Our food supply chain is sophisticated, efficient, integrated and synchronized, and it’s taken us a few days to relocate the misalignment between institutional settings and grocery settings,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a $19 billion Coronavirus Aid package for farmers and food banks that he says will support farmers and help relocate the food misalignment.

Later that evening, during a call with reporters, he provided a few details. The $19 billion consists of $16 billion in direct payments to farmers across commodities and $3 billion for immediate food purchases — prioritizing meat, milk, and produce.

Food assistance purchases – $3 billion

The $3 billion in food purchases will be done in conjunction with private entities, food banks and faith based partners, said the Secretary, and it will use regional and local distributors as well as large foodservice wholesalers like Sysco and PepsiCo. He said USDA is looking to get agriculture surpluses off the market and into the hands of food banks quickly as their needs are accelerating, and he kept coming back to the institutional foodservice companies, mentioning Sysco.

“This is an out-of-the-box example of what we are trying to do – something we have never done before — in realigning the supply,” Perdue said explaining the food-in-a-box concept.

“We are having these conversations about milk dumping, which has much to do with the dual-processing in this country with half of the calories consumed outside the home and with a supply chain of processing for institutional and a supply chain for groceries. That’s where misalignment needs to relocate,” said Perdue. “We’re working with our private providers like Sysco and other foodservice providers to help put meat protein and produce and dairy into those boxes to deliver prepackaged, pre-approved boxes to food banks to make it as easy as possible, so the food banks do not need a workforce to do that.”

As to what specifically goes in the box, that question was not answered, except that procurement will start with $100 million a month for dairy products, and the same amount per month each for meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Distributors and wholesalers will provide a pre-approved box of these packaged items to food banks, community and faith based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need,” the Secretary said.

“We have a very synchronized food system and we can’t afford for it to be offline for very long,” Perdue told reporters, stressing that USDA will use traditional and non-traditional channels of food purchasing to “relocate the dislocated supply chain to get food to where it is needed.

“We can use both the private system purchases through reimbursements, along with the normal bid procurement process,” he said, calling the “relocation of misalignment” a puzzle to solve “like Rubik’s Cube.”

In addition, USDA has up to an additional $873.3 million available in Section 32 funding to purchase a variety of agricultural products for distribution to food banks through the normal AMS bid procurement process, and $850 million from the CARES Act for food bank administrative costs, which includes $600 million designated for food purchases

Direct payments to farmers – $16 billion

Of the $16 billion, $9.6 billion goes to animal agriculture, with dairy to receive $2.9 billion, cattlemen $5.1 billion and pork producers $1.6 billion.

The remaining $6.4 billion would be divided as $3.9 billion to row-crop producers, $2.1 billion to fruit and vegetable specialty crop producers, and $500 million in the “other crop” category.

The $16 billion in direct payments to farmers will use economic analysis by USDA economists, including University of Missouri FAPRI, to determine the commodities that have a 5% or greater loss between Jan. 1, 2020 and April 15, 2020 and from April 15 through October 2020.

FAPRI recently estimated that traditional crop, livestock and dairy industries have experienced cash receipts losses exceeding 32% across commodities.

On the media call, Sec. Perdue explained that the $16 billion in direct payments for farmers and ranches will be funded with the $9.5 billion in emergency funds previously authorized by Congress in the CARES Act and the $6.5 billion remaining in the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) fund from unused trade mitigation funds.

The CCC will be replenished when the next fiscal year begins in July with and additional $14 billion that was earmarked for the fund in the recent CARES Act.

While USDA has not officially released details for the direct payments, and no congressional action is required to do them, several members of Congress did release detailed descriptions based on communications they had received from the department.

Sec. Perdue stated that the rulemaking process on these funds is being expedited to get checks in the mail by the end of May or beginning of June. Producers will receive one check that is determined according to two different formulas:

— Price losses Jan. 1-Apr. 15, 2020 – compensating for 85% of the price loss during this period.

— Expected losses Apr. 15, 2020 through the next two quarters, covering 30% of expected losses.

Payments are capped at $125,000 per individual or entity with one commodity and at $250,000 for individuals and entities with multiple commodities.

Sources indicate that recipients must derive at least 75% of their income from agriculture to receive these payments and have an adjusted gross income below $900,000.

Sign ups for these direct payments are expected to begin in early May through USDA Farm Service Agency.

Farm organizations have expressed gratitude for the aid package, but generally indicate it will not go far enough.

“Agriculture has been hit hard like other sectors,” said Sec. Perdue, explaining that the President had indicated earlier this year that another round of trade mitigation payments would not be necessary with the signing of trade agreements, but that was before COVID-19.

“Things have changed for our farmers with this pandemic. The President told me to do what it takes,” said Perdue.

— By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 24, 2020

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Monitor, document, reassess, reach out

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On the financial side of handling the plummeting prices and disruptions to what was previously expected to be a better year for dairy, Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech, talked about the Coronavirus pandemic’s impact and how to manage it during a Center for Dairy Excellence industry call last week.

“What is different about this is that it hit everyone in the world and how sudden it was. It created demand destruction, and it has affected consumer behavior.”

Kohl said 70% of the U.S. economy is driven by consumption, and 40% of that consumption economy is tied to airlines, hotels, restaurants, recreation and the sports world. “Now that 70% of the U.S. economy has been knocked down to 30%,” he said. “We are not going to just flip that switch.”

He sees the “consumption economy” coming back to just 75% of its prior strength in the restaurant, hospitality and foodservice sectors, “because people are changing their behavior.

“We also export a lot of dairy, but we will see a move from globalization to ‘selective’ globalization,” said Kohl. “This black swan will turn into an angry bird with agriculture as the point dog for extreme volatility.”

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Dr. David Kohl

Kohl stressed three entities need to work together: producers, government, and agribusinesses/lenders. “Lenders will have to think about interest-only and principle deferments because producers will need good sound financials to get through this.”

Kohl said it is too early to tell what effect COVID-19 will truly have on exports. “The value of the dollar vs. other currencies is still strong. The economic health of countries we export to is important, watch for how the middle class is doing in those countries.”

Overall, Kohl sees the economic recovery being more of a Nike-shaped swoosh than a v-shaped bounce-back. As recovery takes shape, the foodservice and export demand will come back but not in a big way, he said, and not immediately.

He gave this advice as a financial expert, ag economist and part owner of a creamery:

  • Monitor cash-flow month-to-month and compare actual to projected to see where you stand.
  • Document losses so we can send a message about them to congressional delegations about what we need.
  • Meet with lender and accountant and go over the financials.
  • Communicate, be flexible and adapt.
  • Be real careful of knee-jerk reactions — that goes for farmers, lenders, and the government.
  • Follow protocols for the virus and know what your protocols are.
  • Never equate self-worth to net-worth.
  • Keep re-assessing your goals.
  • Reach out. Remember, you are not in this alone.

Kohl also sees opportunities for the future. “I have been outspoken on this. There is too much consolidation and concentration in our industry — whether it is dairy or beef,” said Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus as a Center for Dairy Excellence industry call guest last Thursday, April 23.

“We have to look at our supply chains and the vulnerability of them, the vulnerability of having too much power in the control of two few in the food and agriculture industry.

“America was built on small business and entrepreneurship. Even as small processors, we can go bankrupt very quickly, but this is where we also have great opportunity in the future,” Kohl suggested.

Participating on industry teleconferences and webinars over the past few weeks of the Coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Kohl has voiced his observations about how COVID-19 is changing consumer behavior and exposing food supply-chain vulnerabilities.

Some of his insights offer a systemic reality-check, but also present some forward-looking opportunities.

“We had a run-up in demand the first couple weeks of this thing. In general, it is still stronger, but we are also seeing people want local, and they want transparency,” Kohl reported. “People want to know where it comes from, how it is processed and to know the producer.”

He described the supply chain disruptions in dairy over the past several weeks as being attributed to large processing entities built on serving restaurants, universities, schools and other institutional foodservice, and catering to a segment of the international market – bulk products or tiny table sample products — not retail family-sized.

On the other side of that spectrum… “We are feeling this movement back to local, and it’s getting stronger,” said Kohl, adding that creamery home-delivery, for example, is taking off. “People want delivery.”

The other thing Kohl sees in consumer behavior is a return to “emotional food,” something some would call “comfort food.”

Consumers are not only following the science and realizing the healthfulness of dairy fat, they are gravitating toward natural, local and emotional food that brings comfort. Dairy can fit that mode very well if the consolidated supply chain can loosen the grip, open up, and welcome opportunities for local and regional models of processing and marketing.

Kohl said he sees it in the big trends and at the creamery — demand is growing for products like whole milk and ice cream — emotional comfort food.

Various fresh dairy products

— By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 1, 2020

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If you have to divert milk, here’s some advice

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By Sherry Bunting

Production reduction and milk disposal were top-of-mind in a Center for Dairy Excellence industry call last week. Dr. Mike Van Amburgh of Cornell had advice for those dairy producers facing this impact of COVID-19 market disruptions.

Dr. Van Amburgh stressed avoidance of knee-jerk reactions based on hearsay. He urged producers to know, calculate, evaluate, prioritize, monitor, manage and review.

First and foremost, know what your cooperative is actually requiring and what the penalties are and the time frame. Producers should not assume a production cut of 10 to 15% in the next two to four months unless they have received a letter from the buyer of their milk.

Do the math for your herd. “What is the actual penalty for milk shipped over the new base? Figure out how much milk you have to divert. Calculate the pounds and the deduction and spread that over all the milk produced. What does this do to the income average?” The math is important because, he said, “you don’t want to do things that damage the herd’s ability to make milk in the future.”

UdderComfort_FreshCowflipPrioritize cow health, and “avoid strategies that truly damage the ability of your cows to produce milk,” he said. “You don’t want to make decisions that cost you more in the end.”

Go through your records, Van Amburgh advised. If a 10 to 15% reduction is specifically required for your market, set priorities.

Be methodical, not abrupt, he stressed.

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Dr. Mike Van Amburgh

Once you determine pounds of reduction to target, Van Amburgh gave these recommendations in order of priority:

1) Dry off cows: “Look first at which cows could be dried off earlier, and do the math on those pounds and percentages.”

2) Cull cows that are not paying their way. “Don’t cull too hard, be methodical,” said Van Amburgh. Even if the beef market doesn’t pay well with plant closures and disruptions, cull the cows that are costing you money and will cost you even more money when over-base penalties kick-in for those producers who have received letters.

He advised culling cows not bred and longer in milk and cows that have a history of milk quality and udder health issues.

Cull the cows that will leave your herd in a better position to bounce back in the future, and cull the problem animals that require more time and labor or have issues with health and quality.  Refine the herd for high quality milk and to have fewer health problems that drain labor resources. High quality milk is an insurance policy in a selective market.

3) Pen cows over 200 DIM separately and adjust. These are the cows to make adjustments with to slow down by feeding differently or milking 2x instead of 3x.

Check your forage inventory to be sure you have enough to do this: Van Amburgh suggests raising NDF levels on later lactation cows. Go back to the basics — 34 to 38% NDF diets are the best way to back off production, he said. To keep the rumen and the cow healthy, bring forage up to 45 to 50%, then 65 to 70%, and pull starch accordingly to slow those later lactation cows down.

By making a group of later lactation cows and pulling back toward earlier dry-off over the next 120 days — load more forage, balance protein and amino acids and pull back on starch, “you can titrate some of that milk down,” said Van Amburgh.

The key, he said, is good NDF management because it is important to manage this strategy so these later lactation cows do not get fat to avoid metabolic issues when they calve back in.

LINGEN834) Focus on health when evaluating strategies and additives. Don’t just take a lot of the extras out, but do it in a way that makes feeding a less expensive but keeps them in good health, said Van Amburgh.

5) When lowering production, keep the butterfat. This helps keep the income from deflating.

6) Feed saleable milk. “One easy way to divert milk is to feed all the calves some of the salable milk,” he said. “Feeding milk to cows or heifers is also a strategy, and we have some Cornell Pro Dairy bulletins on that.”

Van Amburgh reminded producers that feeding milk to older animals creates a little more work than feeding whey. Work with your nutritionist to see if it it’s doable.

7) Add more forage and pull back starch. “It is crucial to focus on maintaining rumen health,” he said. “It’s important to compare how much this pullback will cost you vs. what the penalties are if you don’t divert all the milk you are being asked to divert. Weigh those dollars and consider the longer-term impacts. As the market adjusts, will your herd be positioned to be healthy and productive for future cash-flow opportunities?

Van Amburgh said the Cornell Pro Dairy team is providing diet and management considerations in an effort to help dairy producers and their advisors meet the request, while maintaining cow health and working to ensure capacity to resume normal milk production relatively quickly once the situation stabilizes.

A question asked on the call was: If dairy farmers reduce their milk production with nutritional measures now, what steps can they take to come back four months from now as conditions change?

This question shows the importance of thinking through how you are going to reduce production and weigh into that decision what the market conditions might be four months from now.

“The key to the answer is the four months,” said Van Amburgh. “That’s 120 days. If you are looking at a 365 or 305 day lactation, you aren’t going to be ramping back up that part of the herd in late lactation four months from now.”

“It’s algebra and biology,” said Van Amburgh. “Yes it is possible, but first sit down and really look at these cows. The last thing you want to do is damage high production cows up front.”

He noted that Cornell is working with herds in New York that if they can’t afford to send that extra milk at a severe discount, take a step by step process for reducing it instead of the knee-jerk reaction of pulling everything out of the program.

UdderComfort_MilkingParlor_18) Going from 3x to 2x milking is the last thing to consider, according to Van Amburgh. That is, unless there are acute labor considerations in the mix. Either way, Van Amburgh advised doing this strategically.

“Weigh this carefully,” he said. “Don’t do it at peak milk. If you are a 3x herd, a smarter strategy is to go to 2x on tail-enders, especially as you move them toward being candidates for an earlier dry-off.”

He said the other group to potentially target for 2x is fresh cows up to 21 days.

These considerations may fit management for some but not all dairies. Every operation will have to determine what might work best for them under their current management conditions. More on this can be found here.

Producers also wondered what they can do privately with milk needing diverted. The answer to this question varies. Robert Barley from the Pa. Milk Marketing Board was on the call, and he said there are no government entities requiring producers to cut production. This means that a producer’s cooperative is best to answer the question about other uses for diverted milk, and the answers may vary.

Producers can also talk with their cooperatives about appropriate donation channels.

On the regulatory side, selling raw milk to consumers is prohibited by most cooperatives, but where it is allowed, producers would have to obtain a raw milk license from their state department of agriculture, and only some states allow the sale of raw milk with a license.

Excess milk can be fed to other livestock on your own farm without a permit. But if it goes into commerce to another operation, it probably needs a permit as it would be identified as commercial feed. Check with your state’s ag department or bureau of plant industry.

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‘Hearts full.’ Whole Milk Donation Drive-through tops 7400 gallons in New Holland

As stores raise prices and limit sales, while farmers are forced to dump milk and see their prices fall to historic lows, many respond with dairy purchases for donation drive-throughs. This example in New Holland provided whole milk from farm to table with love. It was a beautiful blessing to see…

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By Sherry Bunting, preview of Farmshine cover story for May 1, 2020

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — At a time like this, we all need good news. Brothers Mike and Karl Sensenig of Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland, Pennsylvania started thinking about the concerns of farmers and people in their communities during this Coronavirus pandemic. They couldn’t understand why farmers were having to dump milk with nowhere for it to go, while stores had limits on purchases or empty shelves and higher prices.

So, they did the one thing they could do… They gave.

We wanted to give back to our community — and the shelters and missions and food pantries — while helping support our family farm customers at the same time,” the brothers said.Sensenig-4851The idea started coming together two weeks ago. Many of the feed mill’s dairy farm customers in eastern Lancaster County ship their milk to Clover Farms Dairy, a bottling plant in Reading. The Sensenigs spoke with Brian Ohlinger at Clover and put together a purchase order for a tractor trailer load of over 4000 gallons of whole milk for donation.

That number quickly grew to 5200 gallons as word of the plans for a Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through “From Farm to Table with Love” quickly spread through phone calls and social media.

Mike’s wife Nancy fielded over 150 calls with groups and individuals wanting to pre-order for families in need. The entire company — all of the employees — were involved. They amassed a list of over 25 outreach organizations pre-ordering hundreds of gallons to distribute from New Holland to Lancaster to Reading and Allentown, including notables like Water Street Mission, Blessings of Hope, Crossnet, Crossfire, Petra, Safehouse, Good Samaritan and other ministries, churches, shelters, town and company food banks, fire companies, nursing homes, youth centers — so many organizations.

The Sensenigs saw the need and desire for whole milk growing, and they quickly realized even this would not be enough. So, they worked with Clover to get a second single-axle truck of 1152 gallons.

Cars lined up early on the first day of the Whole Milk Donation Drive-through (Apr. 23), while trucks were loaded with bulk orders for charities. The drive-through lines were opened ahead of schedule, and within the first 30 minutes, they had already served around 100 cars.

If this pace kept up, the Sensenigs feared they would run out. So, they called Clover again, and within two hours, a third truck arrived on the premises with another 1100 to 1200 gallons. 

All told, Sensenig’s Feed Mill had purchased 7,476 gallons of milk for donation so supplies would last through both days of drive-through times.

Two generations of the family — Karl, Mike, and Mike’s sons Kyle and Kurt, along with employees Devin Shirk, Steve Morris, Greg Hill, Curtis Hershey, and Lee Stoltzfus loaded vans, trucks, and cars with fresh gallons of whole milk, while Mike’s wife Nancy and employee Dawn Wright directed cars through the M&T Bank parking lot into two lines on either side of the truck and tent.

Even Karl and Mike’s parents Ken and Sandy drove over to watch.

Sensenig-4914They are quick to point out that this would not have been possible without their employees. “This isn’t just us,” he said. “Everyone was excited to do this and to be involved.” The family’s feed mill is celebrating its 75th year in New Holland.

Also wanting to make an impact, a group of concerned citizens affiliated with M&T Bank joined their neighbors in the parking lot — bringing 150 dozen eggs and 50 fresh-baked loaves of bread from Achenbach’s Bakery, Leola.

Sensenig-4786Kurt Sensenig even donned an inflatable cow costume at the start, before he was called back to the feed mill.

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“We have been overwhelmed by the response since we first started taking pre-orders to gauge how much milk we would need. Then the steady stream of people just driving through was amazing. There is so much emotion,” said Mike.

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“This brings home the reality of how many people are struggling right now. And it shows how many people LOVE WHOLE MILK!” said Karl. “Some who drove through the line had tears in their eyes. It seems like something so little. Then you realize how it helps so much, and it shows us how much we can take for granted.”

He tells of a grandmother who drove through with her two grandchildren she is raising. She tentatively asked if she could have two gallons. “I said, ‘you can have more if you need it,’” Karl reflected. “She wondered if it’s not too much trouble, she would use four gallons. I said, ‘sure!’ What she said next really got to me: ‘Now my grandkids can have milk with their cereal.’”

Cereal is a popular item for food bank distribution, but milk is hard to come by, especially whole milk.

One person drove through, saying they had stopped at their usual store to buy milk, but found no whole milk, so they came to Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through and took home four gallons.

Many veterans in the area came through and were grateful for the whole milk they accepted with smiles. Drive-through crews, in turn, thanked them for their service.

Sensenig-4903The bottom line for the Sensenigs and their employees was to bless others even as they believe they are blessed; to do something positive for their community; to help dairy farmers by connecting dots to get whole milk to missions, food banks and families; to bring smiles to young and old during uncertain times that have changed life as we know it.

“We have many dairy farm families as our customers, and we see the milk they have been forced to dump in the past few weeks due to supply chain disruptions while at the same time stores limiting purchases of milk or having little or no whole milk on the shelves,” said Mike. “Clover gave us a price for just the milk, and they packed the first two orders in boxes for us and provided the refrigerated trucks to stay here two days.”

“It takes teamwork,” said Karl. As part of the loading crew, he and his brother were busy all day in constant motion, unloading skids, opening boxes, loading trucks and trunks, and handing out gallons to appreciative people as they drove through.

“I’ll sleep good tonight,” said Karl.

Mike agreed: “Our minds and bodies are exhausted, but our hearts are full.”

The community of farmers and citizens thank all involved! This scene being repeated in other communities is a beautiful thing to see.

Sensenig-4869Others have stepped up doing similar milk donations. Some businesses have bought 500 gallons to give to employees and food banks; one couple in western Pennsylvania feeling blessed to still be working in agriculture are using their stimulus check to buy 500 gallons of whole milk to donate in a drive-through next week at their school; young farmer clubs and other organizations are working with milk cooperatives and processors to donate and raise funds for dairy donation drive-throughs in other parts of Pennsylvania, New York, the Southeast and elsewhere. Some are set up weekly, with people giving donations as they pick up milk and dairy products that are then used the next week to purchase more for donation.

Meanwhile, many store chains are raising prices and limiting purchases to shoppers for milk and dairy products on their sparsely stocked shelves, claiming a shortage, even as farmers are receiving letters that they must cut production because their product “has no demand,” and they are seeing the price they are paid for their milk fall by more than 35% in just four weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing how the centralized supply chain is broken — not making the shift from foodservice to retail. Drive-through donation deals like this one, connect the dots at a more localized level so families get access to the milk and dairy products — especially whole milk — that they need want, while helping outreach organizations distribute to the growing number of families facing unemployment and business closures.

On Friday, April 24th, as the New Holland Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through came to a close, 97 Milk LLC — a grassroots volunteer milk education effort — announced on facebook a fundraising collaboration with Blessings of Hope food pantry mission. The new campaign specifically raises funds to purchase whole milk gallons for the ongoing blessing boxes to families in a 200-mile radius of the Blessings of Hope warehouse in Leola, Pa.

Dozens of dairy-related agribusinesses already sponsor the grassroots farmers’ 97 Milk education effort, which began a little over a year ago with a round bale painted by Berks County, Pa. farmer Nelson Troutman with the words Drink Whole Milk (virtually) 97% Fat Free.  (Whole milk is standardized to 3.25% fat). Such ‘baleboards’ now dot the countryside, along with banners, vehicle signs, a website, facebook page and other social media platforms (97milk.com and @97milk on facebook and instagram; @97milk1 on twitter).

As for the new 97 Milk / Blessings of Hope Whole Milk fundraiser, the response has been immediate. Within the first hour of announcing it on facebook Friday — $4100 had already been raised to keep purchasing whole milk for blessing boxes. Check it out here.

WholeMilkDonationDriveThrough4834Postcript: Karl and Mike Sensenig wish to recognize the mill’s entire team of employees for making the April 23-24 Whole Milk Donation Drive-Through possible: In addition to Karl, Mike, Kurt, Kyle, Scott, Emily and Nancy Sensenig, employees Calvin Buckwalter, Dale Clymer Jr., Ryan Crowther, Raymond Geiter III, Ashley Gesswein, Jared Grosh, Tim Hall, Curtis Hershey, Greg Hill, Dr. Don Jaquette, Joshua Kenderdine, Gerald Martin, Lawrence Martin, Nathan Martin, Steve Morris, Todd Morris, Steven Oberholtzer, Ron Phippen Jr., Devin Shirk, Eugene Shirk, David Stauffer, Allen Steffy, Terry Tshudy, Dwayne Weaver, Elmer Weaver, John Weaver, Logan Weaver, Nelson Weaver, Thomas Weaver and Dawn Wright were all involved. Even the previous generation to run the feed mill — Ken and Sandy Sensenig — came out to watch.

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The Sensenigs and their employees are happy to be part of something that blesses others, to see it multiplied, to see people appreciate whole milk, and to know what their customer dairy farm families produce is in demand. These efforts are uplifting and make a difference.
More links to stories on this and other efforts:

 

Call to action: Grassroots dairy group seeks PA Senate leadership action to move House-passed bills forward

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By Sherry Bunting

HARRISBURG, Pa.  — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed two dairy bills virtually unanimously last December, but the Senate Ag Committee has failed to act.

On April 7, the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee sent a LETTER to Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati asking to bring new leadership to the Senate Ag Committee to move these bills forward.

The Grassroots group is now asking fellow dairy farmers and citizens to help by contacting Senate President Pro Tem Scarnati’s office at jscarnati@pasen.gov and/or 717.787.7084. Simply email or leave a message asking for new leadership in the Senate Ag Committee to move H.B. 1223 and 1224 forward for Senate consideration.

“Now, there is an opportunity of a lifetime for you to save our dairy industry from complete failure. With the COVID-19 pandemic, displacement and dumping of local Pennsylvania milk and a 35% milk income loss across our farms in one month and expected to continue for the next three, at least, you have an opportunity to get these bills out of committee and onto the floor,” the letter to Scarnati explained.

“The Pennsylvania dairy industry is at risk to losing it all — given our small and numerous herd size — the heart of rural PA. Rural Pennsylvanians are counting on this industry to survive COVID-19,” the letter continues. “Now is your time to act.”

“These two bills were overwhelmingly passed by the House, so why is the Senate Ag Committee stalling? For five months they have ignored these bills,” said Nelson Troutman, a Berks County farmer. “Pennsylvania dairy farmers put their income right back into their communities, but they get no help from the Senate on these issues that are critical for our farms to stay in business.”

“How does this happen? How can the House pass two dairy bills 196-0 and 194-2 while the Senate keeps them in a drawer? It doesn’t make sense. We can’t continue down this road,” said Potter County dairy farmer Dale Hoffman.

His daughter Tricia Adams and her brothers are all partners in the farm with a third generation now involved also. Like other dairies, Hoffman Farms is economically important in their community while providing wholesome nutritious milk and hosting farm tours for nearby schools.

“People in our community ask me all the time, what can I do to help? They want to know the milk they are buying is as local as possible, and they want to know they are supporting the farms in their community who provide it,” said Adams. “There is a point when we have to stand behind something and take action. Is it too much to ask that the premiums be returned to farmers as intended? Is it too much to ask for the Senate to consider these bills that the House passed in a bipartisan way?”

The two bills — H.B. 1223 and 1224 — were introduced early last year by Rep. John Lawrence (R-13th).

H.B. 1223 passed by a vote of 194-2. According to Rep. Lawrence, this legislation would establish Keystone Opportunity Dairy Zones (KODZ) to incentivize expanded dairy processing facilities in Pennsylvania to expand markets for milk from Pennsylvania farms. It is modeled after the long-standing Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) program. To qualify, applicants would have to use private capital, create new jobs, and use primarily milk from Pennsylvania farms.

H.B. 1224 passed by a House vote of 196-0. According to Rep. Lawrence, the legislation would give the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) the ability to coordinate the collection and distribution of state-mandated milk premiums with the Department of Revenue, ensuring the premiums reach struggling dairy farmers.

“Pennsylvania’s family dairy farmers are struggling due to historically low prices and foreign competition. Taken together, these bills will positively impact every dairy farmer in Pennsylvania,” Rep. Lawrence observes. “I appreciate the bipartisan support these bills received in committee and on the House floor.”

According to Rep. Lawrence’s press release, both bills also received support from family dairy farmers across the state, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the Pennsylvania Association of Milk Dealers, the Pennsylvania Association of Dairy Cooperatives, and the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board.

“We are at a crossroads in Pennsylvania, where agriculture is our number one driver of our state’s economy, and dairy is the linchpin. We are losing farms every day, hundreds of them every year, and with them, we stand to lose other businesses, jobs and the economic vitality of our rural communities,” said Karl Sensenig of Sensenig’s Feed Mill, New Holland.

“Our farm families are being pressured from all sides by five years of economic stress and market losses as rapid consolidation accelerates production in other regions. Now the coronavirus pandemic is revealing how the system is starting to collapse and how easily these state-mandated premiums disappear in the system between the consumer and the farm,” said Mike Eby, a Lancaster County farmer and chairman of National Dairy Producers Organization. “These bills are following the same pattern we saw in three previous sessions where other transparency bills were passed by the House only to die in the Senate without consideration. What is Senate Ag Committee Chairman Elder Vogel afraid of?”

“The current pandemic shows how important it is for our state to have strong farms and vital processing for our citizens to be food secure. We see our farms being forced to dump milk, losing access to markets, and at the same time scarce supplies of milk and dairy products at stores and limits on purchasing,” notes Krista Byler, a farmer in Crawford County. “These bills help connect some of those dots between farms and consumers.”

For Katie Sattazahn, a dairy producer in Womelsdorf, these bills “offer hope as the dairy situation in Pennsylvania is deteriorating. We have the land, climate and young producers who have grown up on the farm, pursued degrees, and come back with knowledge, passion and talents to move family farms forward, but wonder if they’ll have the opportunity,” said Sattazahn.

Over the past decade, Rep. John Lawrence has introduced other bills aimed at improving PMMB over-order premium transparency. Previous bills also passed the House but were ignored by the Senate Ag Committee.

Now, this pattern continues as H.B. 1223 and 1224 languish without consideration by the Senate Ag Committee under the leadership of Chairman Elder Vogel Jr., representing Pennsylvania’s 47th district.

“This has gone on for too long,” said retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia. “Our farmers have been patient. They have been involved in working on these issues for more than 10 years. Our consumers pay a higher price for milk that includes these premiums that the law requires be paid to farmers. It’s time for the Senate to act on this legislation that helps make sure these funds get to our Pennsylvania farms.

“It’s time for Senate President Joe Scarnati to bring a leadership change to the Pennsylvania Senate Ag Committee,” Morrissey added.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee is chaired by Morrissey and is comprised of dairy producers and related agribusiness representatives from diverse regions of the state.

Their letter was also sent to Senate Ag Committee Chairman Elder Vogel and all members of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

To support action and leadership on these bills, farmers and citizens of Pennsylvania are asked to contact PA Senate President Scarnati at jscarnati@pasen.gov and 717.787.7084. Simply email or leave a message asking for new leadership in the Senate Ag Committee to move H.B. 1223 and 1224 forward in the Senate.

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From USDA to checkoff, no one in farmer’s corner

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 17, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa.– From the fortress of the USDA to the ivory towers of the dietary command to the branches of the checkoff government-speech machine and the centralized, globalized food system ‘partners’ in between — No one is in the farmer’s corner. Not even the people paid by the farmers to be in their corner.

This much is crystal clear by now in the collapsing markets and stark realities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The curtains have been opened.

And the usual players do what they do.

They pat themselves on the back, converse about their insights from within their echo-chamber, and lecture those who would dare call attention to the sight before us or deviate from the script.

Over the last week, dairy checkoff newsletters have bragged about what they are doing for dairy demand amid the deepening crisis; how DMI is “adjusting to move more dairy.”

Yep, the bulk butter and bulk cheese and bulk powder plants in growth areas are moving more dairy — right into the already bursting at the seams cold storage inventory warehouses.

Few if any reports from states with these large plants indicate any milk dumping whatsoever.

Butter inventories were already 25% higher than year ago heading into the COVID-19 pandemic and cheese inventory was already growing too.

Reports indicate such fully functioning cheese and whey or powder plants are running full tilt, while a shopper has to store-hop through three or more establishments to find a package of butter, walk into Walmart and see rows of empty cheese racks, try to walk out of a Walmart or Sam’s Club with two gallons of milk and be forced to give one back.

Other supermarkets aren’t much better, except for the smaller family-owned markets. Pictures and texts continue to pour in, while our leaders assure us that the purchasing limits are really lifted.

Go to Kroger’s website (a DMI partner) and see their explanation of why they’ve raised the price of milk. It’s because there is a shortage, they say, while farms all around them are forced to dump milk. Just six weeks ago, a Kroger executive I spoke with said, ‘no we can’t raise the price of milk — it was $1.25/gal pre-COVID (not in PA of course but elsewhere).

I was making the point that we have loss-led and commoditized this deal long enough. Please respect the milk. “No,” I was told, “raise the price? How is that going to sell more milk?”

What is Kroger doing today (and Walmart and other heavy hitters for that matter)? NOW, they are raising the price, even canceling some orders without much to spare, as they are being asked to stop limiting sales.

Meanwhile farmers are forced to dump milk.

As the commodities crash with barrel cheese at around $1/lb and butter headed there too, are the food system heavy-hitters holding back to buy that higher-priced inventory on the cheap just to turn it around and charge more?

We are getting to see how the system works — how the losses and consolidation of a decade or more are threatening our farms and food security. But leaders and policymakers are still convinced this system is the best, and thanks to new stricter rules coming on animal proteins and fat, it’s about to get better, more diluted, and void.

Take the DMI update in the ADA Northeast newsletter from April 6, how proud they are of the “seven ways checkoff is working for you during COVID-19” and how they are “adjusting to move more dairy”, how GENYOUth is “keeping the meals flowing to students”, while in reality the real school chefs and lunch ladies — even bus drivers — are out on the front lines figuring it out for real on their own every day; how proud they are that the National Dairy Council “sorted through milk myths.”

Now that last one is a doozie. Here’s one of the seven ways checkoff is working for you: “National Dairy Council is among the expert organizations to debunk claims that milk can help ward off coronavirus.”

Remember the news about milk and it’s immune-building properties? Even Hoards Dairyman noted milk was “flying off the shelves” as consumers sought the health benefits and comfort of milk.

Remember how DMI tells us “you can’t educate people to drink what you want them to drink?” How “we want to move people away from the habit of reaching for the jug and toward the new innovative products?”

It wasn’t even a week after fluid milk sales skyrocketed 40% that the National Dairy Council helped debunk some of that immune-building “myth” in Reuters story.

And yes, rest assured, DMI is talking to “your (their) partners” to get them to “move more dairy”.

So here’s the clincher. Watching the President’s daily COVID-19 press conference Wednesday evening (April 15), it really hit home, bringing together so much of what I have seen and heard over the past few weeks and the months and years before that.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was part of President Trump’s daily presser Wednesday, and I was hopeful when he went to the microphone that he would talk about impact to food and agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He told Americans that “Our food system is strong, resilient and safe,” despite the bare shelves and limits on purchases that people are seeing in supermarkets.

“In the United States, we have plenty of food for all of our citizens,” Perdue said. “I want to be clear, the bare store shelves that you may see in ‘some’ cities in the country are a demand issue, not a supply issue.” (Huh? At least he didn’t phrase it the way Pennsylvania’s Ag Secretary does, saying in a PDA public service announcement to radio and television stations that store limits, bare shelves and dumped milk are a ‘hoarding issue”, and saying in a dairy industry conference call: “this is what happens when people hoard food.”

No Mr. Secretaries, this is not hoarding and it’s not a ‘demand’ issue, it’s a centralized, consolidated, globalized food industry structure issue.

Back to Sec. Perdue’s moment before the American people… Perdue said simply that there has been a large shift from people eating in restaurants and fast food businesses, and now eating at home, which has spiked in the last few weeks and placed a high demand on grocery stores.

“Our supply chain is sophisticated, efficient, integrated and synchronized, and it’s taken us a few days to relocate the misalignment between institutional settings and grocery settings.” Perdue said.

Bingo. The accelerated creation of this machine over the past decade has been designed by government policy from the flawed dietary guidelines, to the government speech farmers are forced to pay for, to the mergers and acquisitions and antitrust behaviors, to the globalization and centralized decision-making, to the erosion of local/regional milksheds and foodsheds.

Yes, Mr. Secretary, that sophisticated, efficient, integrated, synchronized food supply chain has moved our country closer to cow islands and food deserts and fracturing of regional food security.

Some of the best minds in agriculture economics are seeing it. Consumers are waking up to the realization of what that means when the chips are down. They are watching their communities’ farmers dump milk, depopulate poultry flocks, send milk herds to slaughter.

This pandemic has peeled back the band-aid covering gaping wounds inflicted for years, and now when it is open and bleeding for all to see, the Secretary reassures the nation that this big beautiful bountiful ag food system simply needs to “relocate a misalignment.”

Tammy Goldammer, a cattle rancher friend of mine in Missouri put it bluntly in a social media post after listening. Here are some of her words:

“Production Ag People?

Did you happen to listen to US Ag. Sec. Perdue’s comments today at the Rona Update press conference? Were you reassured about your occupation of raising the highest quality protein sources to feed the world?

Did you find it interesting that there was no mention about “producers” and what is going on with what they raise to feed people?
1. There was no mention of the killing of millions of ready to harvest chickens and turkeys…to leave them to compost.
2. There was no mention of the dumping orders for milk and the orders to let cows go dry and to sell the dairy cow herds.
3. There was no mention of the shuttering of ethanol plants and the resulting depletion (no supply) of by-products utilized in the livestock feeding industries.
4. There was no mention of the Mercantile Exchanges and the crashing commodity prices for livestock, dairy and grain futures.
5. There was no mention of the bankruptcies and insolvencies of feeders who grow the nation and the world’s protein sources.
6. There was no mention of the sucking sound to the south of the beef cattle industry.
7. There was a mention there are a few “slaughter” plant closures due to Covid-19 being detected in some employees.
8. There was a mention that our nation’s food supply is abundant and there should be no fear about food availability.
Do you all like math? Mr. Perdue? Your commentary today to assure the American public was absolutely “void” of speaking to the producers/people who produce what you stated is in good shape and rest assured there are no shortages.
To say I was “stunned” at your “void” on the big picture, well, let’s say I was totally bewildered.”

But never fear oh sophisticated, efficient, integrated and synchronized food system, President Trump followed the Perdue comments with news that there is $15 billion in tariff money left in Sec. Perdue’s charge to help farmers who were targeted and he gave the Secretary the go ahead to use it.

Later this evening, word came that the government will begin buying milk and meat. Yes, as mentioned by Pennsylvania’s own Secretary in his PSA ‘stop hoarding food’… ‘food banks need the food’… ‘we have a system…’

Yes, the integrated centralized system is the proper channel while communities take care of their own with whatever resources they can muster. Good people in communities like mine right here in Lancaster County, Pa. are buying milk, giving it to the needy or seeking processors (for pay) to process milk headed to manure pits so it can be donated, only to bump up against that integrated system.

Kudos to those businesses in the community who are buying milk to give to the needy or stepping up to allow their smaller processing plants get milk ready for food banks before it is wasted.

The efficient, sophisticated, integrated, synchronized food system is not. But it will when the price is low enough and the government starts buying.

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