Matt Coyle, Outreach Assistant
The Piedmont Environmental Council
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (June 10, 2020) — At 9 a.m. on Friday, June 12, Maola Dairy will deliver 280 gallons of locally-produced milk to Blue Ridge Area Food Bank’s Thomas Jefferson Area Branch location at 1207 Harris Street in Charlottesville, for distribution to eight other food pantries in Albemarle, Greene, and Madison counties and the City of Charlottesville. The Piedmont Environmental Council initiative is helping local dairy farmers who normally would sell their milk to school nutrition programs, now closed down during the coronavirus pandemic, and food insecure populations experiencing milk shortages at local food pantries.
With an initial challenge gift of $5,000 from the PATH Foundation, $3,600 from the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, and contributions from private donors, The Piedmont Environmental Council has raised more than $45,000 for weekly purchase and delivery of milk. “Based on conversations with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and other food pantries in the region, and the generous donations we’ve received, we are right now providing more than 800 gallons of milk weekly to 16 food banks in the northern Piedmont,” said Matt Coyle, PEC’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Coordinator. “We are thrilled by and grateful for our community’s enthusiastic support of such an important effort when so many farmers and families are suffering,” he said.
The initiative was conceived during a conversation between PEC and Fauquier County dairy farmer Ken Smith, of Cool Lawn Farm. “That was when we learned that local dairies can’t sell a big portion of their milk production with schools being closed. At the same time, through our work on local food, we learned that certain types of food and nutrition items have been in very short supply at local food pantries during this crisis, despite being produced in our own community. In no case has this been more glaring than in milk production,” Coyle said.
“We saw an opportunity that PEC is in a unique position to take on—to support both our local dairy producers and our food insecure populations by connecting local milk to local food pantries,” Coyle said.
PEC set about fundraising to purchase the milk from the cooperative, and on behalf of PEC, Smith approached the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, which produces and distributes most local milk under the brand name Maola. The cooperative readily agreed to shift its packaging and delivery practices to the food pantries. “This is a great thing, to be able to quickly pivot and provide milk at new locations, and the community really supporting them. This type of partnership supports resilient rural communities by feeding those in need and purchasing from local dairy farmers,” said Lindsay Reames of the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.
The initiative began in mid-May as a pilot partnership with two food banks in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties. That success led to a rapid spread to Loudoun and Clarke counties. Now, in collaboration with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the program will also provide milk to The Haven, Holy Comforter Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, and Loaves and Fishes in Charlottesville; Buck Mountain Food Pantry and Covesville Baptist Church Food Pantry in Albemarle County; Madison Emergency Service Agency in Madison County; and Blue Ridge Presbyterian Food Bank and Feeding Greene in Greene County.
“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our food supply chain and illustrates the incredible value of strong, sustainable local food systems, not only for times like these, but also after the current crisis passes when consumers want access to more nutritious and more locally-produced food,” Coyle said. “Small, family-owned dairy farms are already operating on the edge of survival due to falling milk prices and competition with milk alternatives as well as commercial-scale dairy operations. Absent innovative approaches to the supply-chain issues revealed during the pandemic, many will not make it through this period. We hope this shift to supply local food pantries makes a real difference.”
PEC President Chris Miller emphasizes the need for systemic changes within the local food supply chain. “It’s exciting to see such a rapid and enthusiastic community solution to a systemic problem, and we critically need a more holistic solution in the long run. The Piedmont Environmental Council has been working on sustainable food systems in the northern Piedmont for more than 15 years, and we hope this effort to connect local farms to local consumers will build a wider recognition of the need for investment in a strong local food supply chain,” he said.
“It is not a permanent solution for PEC to be in the middle of local food sourcing on a regular basis, but it’s a testament of our place in the community that we could help make this difference during this crisis. Because PEC has long-term relationships with landowners and farmers, supports food banks and other charities, and is part of the community service sector in each county, we were able to put a successful pilot effort together in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties in a week and expand the full initiative in less than month,” Miller said.
PEC hopes to take the program into Culpeper and Orange counties soon, and is exploring the possibility of expanding the effort to include beef and eggs, also in short supply in community food banks. Community members interested in supporting this initiative should contact Director of Advancement Nora Seilheimer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 977-2033 x7008.
PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: The first dairy delivery to the Blue Ridge Area Food Banks will take place at 9 a.m. on Friday, June 12 at the Thomas Jefferson Area Branch, 1207 Harris Street, Charlottesville. The pantry will receive about 280 gallons of milk, which Blue Ridge Area Food Bank will disbursement to The Haven, Holy Comforter Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, and Loaves and Fishes in Charlottesville; Buck Mountain Food Pantry and Covesville Baptist Church Food Pantry in Albemarle County; Madison Emergency Service Agency in Madison County; and Blue Ridge Presbyterian Food Bank and Feeding Greene in Greene County.
About The Piedmont Environmental Council: Since 1972, The Piedmont Environmental Council has proudly promoted and protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. PEC empowers residents to protect what makes the Piedmont a wonderful place, and works with citizens to conserve land, improve air and water quality and build thriving communities. PEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and accredited land trust. Learn more at www.pecva.org.