Percy's cows

Vermont farmers, confronted with plummeting milk prices and a flooded market, are teaming up with a milk-purchasing cooperative and the Vermont Community Foundation to make milk and yogurt available to people in need through the Vermont Foodbank.

In a project spearheaded by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, raw milk will be taken from several Vermont farms and processed by Commonwealth Dairy LLC in Brattleboro and HP Hood in Barre to make yogurt and 2 percent milk that will be distributed to the Vermont Foodbank and then to Vermonters hit hard by the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Demand for help has doubled since March, the Vermont Foodbank reports.

“When people are laid off or losing work hours with businesses shut down, their food budgets are hit hard,” said John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank. “Meeting the increasing need is an immense task, and we wouldn’t stand a chance if not for creative efforts like this one that connect the resources available with the people who need them.”

“This collaboration highlights the integral role of Vermont dairy farms in our state’s food system,” Gov. Phil Scott said. “I applaud these groups for supporting our farmers and Vermonters in need, feeding our most vulnerable and not wasting a valuable and healthy agricultural product.”

Vermont’s farmers are struggling with record-low milk prices. Because the coronavirus has shut down many aspects of the economy, one result is a sharp drop in demand for raw milk.

Now, farms that are members of the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative will be paid fair market price for raw milk they would otherwise dump or sell for rock-bottom prices. A total of $60,000 has been made available through the Vermont Community Foundation to buy two large tankers full of raw milk.

Some of the milk will be taken to Commonwealth Dairy, producer of Green Mountain Creamery yogurt, where it will be turned into 42,000 cups of yogurt. The rest will be processed by HP Hood into 11,500 gallons of 2 percent milk. All that yogurt and milk will then be distributed to hundreds of people through the Vermont Foodbank.

“We are thrilled that we have found a process to redistribute agricultural product that otherwise would have gone to waste to serve our neighbors in the communities we call home,” said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. 

The raw milk processing began last week and fresh yogurt and milk will continue to be made through this month, but there is hope the partnership can continue into the summer.

Other aid

Vermont’s farmers are also getting help from other sources. On May 8, it was announced that, after several weeks of delays, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is now available to farmers.

Vermont’s congressional delegation announced the news last Friday.

The Economic Disaster Loan program can be used to cover a variety of expenses for small businesses and can include a $10,000 advance that does not need to be repaid if the recipient meets certain requirements.

Like other small businesses, farmers can also apply to the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small businesses loans to cover up to eight weeks of payroll and are forgiven if employees are rehired or retained.

Farmers and other small businesses can learn more about the Economic Disaster Loan program at bit.ly/economicdisasterloans.

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