MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin dairy farmers and producers are getting a chance to keep their business running and feed the hungry. A partnership with the Hunger Task Force means milk and other dairy products are now being purchased from struggling farmers and given to area food programs.
Marieke Penterman is a Wisconsin cheesemaker and small dairy farmer. She is out helping Hunger Task Force pack up bags of food that includes her cheese. The Marieke Gouda cheese had been nominated for the top 20 best cheeses in the world back in March before the pandemic.
“Then COVID hit, so mid-March everything went south so devastating that dairy farms in Wisconsin we had to dump our milk,” said Penterman.
Marieke and dairy farmer Bryan Voegeli say the dairy crisis this year hit them hard even before COVID-19. Marieke was steps away from losing everything when the virus spread.
“Not having food on our table you aren’t sure what tomorrow will bring,” said Penterman.
“Our [milk] goes specifically for cheese and yogurt. With the restaurants closing, the school closing, all your normal supply chains were disrupted and all of sudden there was such a surplus of cheese cause there was no place to go with it,” said Voegeli.
The Hunger Task Force saw what was happening in the dairy industry and put a call to the public asking people to give donations so they could buy the milk, cheese and yogurt from the producers.
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“Instead of having them spill their milk and have people go hungry, we agreed to use donations to buy that milk. We have invested just over $2-million,” said Sherrie Tussler, executive director Hunger Task Force.
Now seniors in need in Milwaukee are not just getting the typical food box, which usually includes only shelf-stable products like peanut butter and bricks of American cheese. They are also receiving fresh milk, Gouda cheese, yogurt, plus local farm produce. All items the Hunger Task Force paid Marieke, Bryan and the other farmers for producing.
“We are a very small co-op, 13 farmers, we actually own two little cheese factories so it was huge for us,” said Voegeli.
“To be here and for us to increase our production and knowing it comes to people who need it, it’s a miracle,” said Penterman.
The Hunger Task Force still needs help raising money for the Dairy Recovery Program so it can keep helping farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can donate through this link.