With the onset of the coronavirus and subsequent shutdowns, dairy farmers across Pennsylvania have faced a sharp decrease in demand for milk. Dairy cows continue to produce, and without schools or restaurants open to purchase the milk, farmers found themselves dumping their excess.
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Gabrielle Swavely, Centre County Dairy Princess, assisted with a milk giveaway organized by Penn State Extension and held in Centre County. IMAGE: ANDY BATER/CENTRE COUNTY FARM BUREAU

At the same time, food banks saw an increase in demand for services as the pandemic worsened.

Penn State Extension staff from across the commonwealth have worked with various organizations to find a solution to both problems. Lisa Holden, associate professor of dairy science and extension dairy team member, was one of the people who spearheaded a free milk giveaway, or milk drop, at the Nittany Mall in State College on May 26.

“Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a tremendous disruption of the supply chain and a surplus of milk,” she said. “Since cows are constantly producing, the milk needs to be taken off the farms and processed to make room for the next batch. Working with the local food bank, we were trying to get milk that would have been dumped processed back into the supply chain and to the community.”

In Centre County, Holden and Penn State Extension staff worked with the Centre County Farm Bureau, State College Food Bank, State College Rotary, Nittany Mall, W.R. Hickey, and Vale Wood Farms of Loretto.

Holden and her team worked closely with Andy Bater, president of the Centre County Farm Bureau, and Allayn Beck, executive director of the State College Food Bank. Vale Wood Farms is owned by the Itle family and is staffed with Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences alumni. Gabrielle Swavely, Centre County Dairy Princess, and Riley Silvis, National Petite Miss Agriculture, shared information about the event.

Funding provided by the State College Food Bank purchased milk from Vale Wood Farms. The State College Mask Makers provided two masks for every family who came to the milk drop. The Nittany Mall’s parking lot was used for the milk drop, and Holden noted it was a perfect staging area. The mall also provided its security team to help direct traffic and keep attendees moving through the line.

“The goal of the event was for it to be contactless and as safe as possible for everyone involved,” said Holden. “Two nurses took the volunteers’ temperatures before the event. Everyone handing out the milk was in masks and gloves. People stayed in their cars and popped their trunks so volunteers could place the milk and masks into the trunk.”

During the event, organizers distributed about 675 half-gallons of whole milk and chocolate milk. Extra milk was taken to food banks in State College and Philipsburg.

Holden said the milk drops are a great example of the work that extension does daily.

“There is flexibility with extension that keeps us closely connected to the community,” she said. “We have people along the chain from production to urban distribution. Our extension volunteers, who range from retired faculty to current extension folks, also are invested in our communities.”

The milk giveaway in Centre County was one of many similar events that took place across Pennsylvania. In Huntingdon County, Penn State Extension dairy educator Amber Yutzy was involved in two milk drops, one at the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds and another at Southern Huntingdon High School. The events supplied families with a total of 7,200 gallons of Galliker’s milk, 1,880 pounds of butter and 900 pounds of cheese.

Yutzy worked with Huntingdon County Dairy Promotion and the Huntingdon County Holstein Association. Products for both drops were purchased with money that was donated by local businesses and community members.

“Huntingdon County is very rural,” Yutzy said. “Many people were without work during the pandemic and were struggling to feed their families. Our food bank doesn’t have the capacity for cold storage, so the milk drop helped us put healthy, nutritious products in community members’ hands and helped dairy producers.”

The Franklin County Farm Bureau also held a milk drop at Franklin Feed and Supply in Chambersburg in May. “More than 2,000 cars came through in five hours and we gave away more than 3,600 gallons of whole milk from Harrisburg Dairies,” said Lucy Leese, office manager for the farm bureau. “It was Franklin County helping Franklin County. The best part for the farm bureau board members and myself has been seeing the community step up, serve and support each other in this way.”

Holden echoed this sentiment.

“If there is a need in the community and interest from the food banks, we hope to do another milk drop and extend the event to include cheese,” she said. “People from a variety of community groups, farms and food banks have stepped up, and it’s been great to be a part of it.”

Patancheru police on Tuesday conducted searches on a milk factory in Pashamailaram industrial estate on the city outskirts and seized adulterated dairy products, particularly curd and cheese (paneer).

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