WAUPUN, Wis. – Thousands of people in Waupun and neighboring areas care about farmers and food. That’s been made abundantly clear as the Waupun FFA and Waupun FFA Alumni, Waupun-area businesses and an anonymous donor have purchased and distributed thousands of pounds of dairy and meat products to the community of more than 11,000 people.

“Everyone wins,” said Tari Costello about the community project.

She’s an agriculture educator and FFA adviser at Waupun High School. She’s also been a major force behind the effort.

The Waupun FFA organizations have partnered with area individuals and businesses to provide free agricultural products to the community. They’ve also provided dairy products for the community’s school-lunch program. The effort has helped to increase awareness about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on farmers. The pandemic has only added to the hardships farmers have experienced from the past few years of depressed commodity prices.

Many farmers were forced to dump milk in late March and early April because so many restaurants and other food-service buyers had suspended operations. The Waupun FFA and Waupun FFA Alumni wanted to show support of the area’s dairy farmers so they purchased 300 “Support Dairy” signs.

“While we were delivering signs a man told us he wanted to donate 1,000 gallons of milk,” Costello said. “That man wishes to remain anonymous.”

His donation had a snowball effect. The Waupun FFA organizations donated another 200 gallons, providing a total of 1,200 gallons of milk for the community. And Yodelay Yogurt donated 350 servings of yogurt for school lunches, Costello said.

Soon the FFA organizations were receiving calls from others wanting to make donations. As a result the groups were able to purchase and donate 2,000 pounds of cheese and sausage for the community as well as more than 1,400 pieces of individually wrapped string cheese for school lunches. The effort has helped livestock producers and area meat processors in Wisconsin – Brandon Meats of Brandon, Eden Meat Market of Eden, and LeRoy Meats of both Fox Lake and Horicon.

The anonymous donor contacted the FFA groups again, resulting in 2,000 pounds of fresh Mozzarella for the community. The school-lunch program received more Yodelay Yogurt along with 1,400 servings of string cheese made by Baker Cheese of St. Cloud, Wisconsin.

“In week four we donated 1,200 gallons of milk to the community and Yodelay yogurt for the school-lunch program,” Costello said. “In week five we donated 500 pounds of shredded Mozzarella and 500 pounds of cheese curds for the community and string cheese in every school lunch.”

The following week the FFA groups had 1,200 pizzas to donate to the community as well as string cheese for the school-lunch program.

“A wide variety of sponsors and donors have made this possible,” Costello said.

The Tractor Supply Company store in Waupun, for example, made its parking lot available to the community to drive in and pick up food.

“The turnout has been fantastic,” said Tina Telot, manager of the Tractor Supply Company store in Waupun. “Our small community really supports these kinds of efforts.”

Heidi Braker, owner of Rens Floral in Waupun, also has donated her parking lot.

“Tari Costello was my high school agriculture teacher and when she reached out to me about donating our space, I was happy to do it,” Braker said. “I was raised on a farm and my husband raises calves and farms land so this effort is close to my heart. It chokes me up to see the community supporting our farmers. People don’t always understand farming; it’s a work in progress. People have asked me, ‘I can buy milk at the store, why give it away?’ I tell them this effort is about where their food comes from and (the importance of) supporting farmers.”

Visit www.facebook.com/groups/waupunffa for more information.

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.