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'Win-win' collaborative event aims to support struggling dairy farms, help Centre County residents

Posted: May 27, 2020

The State College Food Bank, Vale Wood Farms, the State College Downtown Rotary, Penn State Extension and the Centre County Farm Bureau came together on Tuesday to distribute half gallons of milk to the community.
Riley Silvis, 2019 National Petite Miss Agriculture, helps to hand out half gallons of milk Tuesday during a distribution event outside of the Nittany Mall. Photo by Abby Drey

Riley Silvis, 2019 National Petite Miss Agriculture, helps to hand out half gallons of milk Tuesday during a distribution event outside of the Nittany Mall. Photo by Abby Drey

By MARLEY PARISH, CENTRE DAILY TIMES

The dairy industry is no stranger to financial strain, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused "sharp drops" in an already struggling field, a Penn State professor said.

But Tuesday, in what Associate Professor of Dairy Science Lisa Holden called a "win-win" event, local agencies were able to help Centre County families in need and support the dairy industry by giving away 675 half gallons of milk.

The preliminary event to gauge interest - held at the Nittany Mall - was organized in part by the State College Food Bank, Vale Wood Farms, the State College Downtown Rotary, Penn State Extension, the Centre County Farm Bureau and Namdar Realty Group.

Holden said the pandemic created a greater need for food, and at the same time, dairy farms - locally and nationally - have been hit with falling prices for milk. In some cases farms have dumped milk due to supply chain disruptions.

"Unlike a factory that can be shut down, cows cannot be turned off. They need to be fed and milked multiple times a day," Centre County Farm Bureau President Andy Bater said. "Unfortunately, this meant milk, which is always sold fresh, in some cases initially had to be dumped or wasted."

Holden said increasing milk consumption helps prevent "backlogs" in the system that benefit all farms indirectly. Vale Farms provided the milk for Tuesday's event, and the giveaway helps move the product through the supply chain for farmers, Holden said.

"In Centre County, dairy represents almost half of our total ag receipts, so those dairy farms that dot our landscape also represent an essential economic engine for our county," Holden said. "Additionally, they provide revenue beyond the farm gate with the goods and services that they purchase from agribusiness - like feed, seed and veterinary services."

Allayn Beck, executive director of the food bank, said participating in the event was a "no-brainer."

"The food bank is covering the cost of processing the milk for Vale Wood and stepped in as a sponsor to help make this happen," she said. "It's just right up our alley - making sure people have healthy food to eat."

Since the coronavirus hit Centre County in March, Beck said the food bank has seen a steady increase in the number of clients it serves.

"We are predicting that this is going to be a slow climb for us, and it's going to be a long journey," Beck said.

With the coronavirus affecting many Centre County residents, Holden and Beck said they hope to repeat the milk giveaway as donations permit.

"We are also hoping to raise additional funds to bring more milk and dairy products for future events," Holden said. "Donations can be made online to the State College Food Bank. Use the note section to indicate 'milk money,' so the funds are designated for dairy products."

A list of the food bank's greatest needed items can be found on its website. Monetary donations can be made online, and drop-offs can occur Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or by appointment.