MADISON, Wis. – “A small idea can go a long way, especially with the incredible power of the agriculture industry’s network,” Sydney Endres and Mariah Martin say.

The two young women in May designed and began selling “Support Local Farmers” T-shirts. They’ve since raised more than $8,000 to purchase milk to donate to two food banks in Wisconsin.

“We were seeing firsthand the struggle farmers and ranchers experienced as the food chain has had to adapt in the past few months, especially in Wisconsin,” Martin said. “We were volunteering at our local food bank and saw the surge in demand along with a drop in food donations.”

Both Endres and Martin have backgrounds in the dairy industry and are alumna of the University of Wisconsin-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Endres was raised on her family’s 700-cow Jersey farm near Lodi, Wisconsin. She works for the American Jersey Cattle Association as an area representative and type-traits appraiser. Martin’s family has a long history in the dairy industry, dating back seven generations. She’s a marketing executive for Filament Marketing in Madison.

The two designed the T-shirts and worked with a printer to produce them. They shared on social media that they were selling the shirts to support farmers. They used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

“On Snapchat we worked with a friend to incentivize followers to buy shirts by setting goals,” Martin said. “Once we sold 300 shirts, for example, we broadcast a milk-chugging challenge. We used our networks at work as well as within the dairy industry and agriculture organizations.”

They opened sales for about a week and a half with the goal of selling 200 shirts. They figured that would result in a donation of $2,000 to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin, and Feeding America’s Adopt-a-Dairy-Cow and Great American Milk Drive. Instead they were able to donate $8,400 worth of milk through the sale of 640 T-shirts.

“After the first few days we were blown away, from the support of family and friends near and far as well as complete strangers,” Endres said.

The women have sent shirts from coast to coast and even to Alaska.

“We took two things we are passionate about – the agriculture industry and giving back – to create an effort that has grown beyond what we could have possibly imagined,” Endres said.

Both Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin and Feeding America have programs where monetary donations are used for purchasing milk. That in turn helps dairy farmers and dairy processors that have lost food-service sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Milk is a greatly requested product but it’s rarely donated. Food-bank programs are structured to supply more milk to those households needing it most, Martin said.

“Most people are looking for ways to make a difference in other’s lives; sometimes they just need a facilitator they know and trust,” she said.

People can donate directly to the food-assistance programs. But adding value and sharing stories through the T-shirt campaign has encouraged more people to donate.

“We’ve learned – and have been reminded – that people are just plain awesome,” she said. “The support we’ve received is heart-warming. We’re so thankful to all who liked, shared and purchased shirts to support dairy farmers and give to those in need. We’re also thankful to all our family and friends who helped us organize, deliver and distribute.”

T-shirt sales will end at 11:59 p.m. June 30. The shirts will be mailed, or available for pick up in mid-July at X Per T’s Printwear, 100 Commerce St., DeForest, Wisconsin. 

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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.