Molly Pelzer, CEO of Midwest Dairy, is amazed by the generous, practical and creative spirit of dairy farmers.

When dairy production was challenged by COVID-19 pandemic logistics, farmers started asking their checkoff organization what they could do to get dairy products to children and adults in need.

Pelzer thinks that’s a great story to tell and celebrate.

“Rather than think about the hardships they were facing as dairy farmers, they were thinking about others,” she said in a recent phone interview.

In mid-April, milk prices dropped by $6/cwt, and some farmers had to dispose of raw milk for up to three weeks. Despite that hardship, Midwest Dairy, which represents 5,800 dairy farm families across the Midwest region, donated $500,000 to food banks for the purchase of dairy products during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The contributions were spread out across the 10 states Midwest Dairy represents: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

The USDA gave Midwest Dairy an exemption to use checkoff funds to purchase dairy products – that’s something that typically isn’t allowed. Midwest Dairy partnered with processors to find what products were available, and then located food banks that could distribute those dairy products.

In addition, when schools were closed in March to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, Midwest Dairy identified another need, helping school partners keep milk and dairy products cold as they implemented alternative feeding methods for students.

Within the first three days of school closures, the organization offered school districts over 1,400 soft-sided cooler bags and/or barrel coolers to keep products cold as they continued to deliver meals to children. In addition, Midwest Dairy discovered some food pantries needed refrigerator units to be able to offer fresh products, such as dairy, to people in need. Dairy farmers nominated food pantries to receive commercial refrigerators, and 90 electrical units were donated throughout the 10-state region.

Midwest Dairy also reached out to communities affected by unrest following the death of George Floyd while in police custody. In mid-June, refrigerator trucks were brought to communities that lost grocery stores, convenience stores or other retail outlets where they could purchase food.

“We now have what we call pop-up refrigeration trucks that can come into a community that has been impacted by social unrest and offer an opportunity for distribution of food,” Pelzer said. Trucks were sent to three metropolitan areas, including the Twin Cities, to provide dairy and food refrigeration in June.

Along with humanitarian work, dairy farmers and their organizations developed unique ways to celebrate National Dairy Month. Virtual farm tours, as well as videos of farmers reading children’s books on the farm, are available at https://www.midwestdairy.com/resources-for-families-and-partners/. (See links below.)

In addition, some counties are having open houses and breakfasts on the farm using masks and staying six feet away from others. Guests are receiving tours in their cars and packages of dairy products to take home.

Pelzer also wanted readers to know that Midwest Dairy partnered with Coborn’s, Cashwise and Pizza Ranch to offer dairy product deals during National Dairy Month.

“Celebrating in-store and online is certainly a way we have changed,” she said. “We saw a threefold increase in the number on online grocery orders during the pandemic. It’s fun to be able to meet consumers where they want to purchase dairy – whether they’re just enjoying it for a family meal, as we’ve all started to eat more at home; or if they’re baking more, often that includes dairy as well.”

For more information and fun dairy activities with dairy farmers, visit these internet sites:

• Story Time with Ag Ed on the Move – Join dairy farmer Donna Telle as she reads, “The Cow that Wouldn’t Come Down,” written and illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=234539041205359

• Story Time with Ag Ed on the Move – Dairy farmer, Alex Peterson, joins from his farm in Trenton, Mo. "The Calf on My Farm", written by Stephanie White, is a story you won't want to miss! https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=254156732568493

• Dairy Story Hour – Join dairy farmer Janet Bremer from Minnesota for stories and dairy-related activities. Check out her blog for more information. https://mybarnyardview.blogspot.com/