Columbiana County business donates milk to needy

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Gallons of milk were available for free at Progressive Dairy Systems, in Columbiana, Ohio, over the weekend. (submitted photo)

A Columbiana County farm equipment business is filling the gap between dairy farmers and those who need milk.

“The Lord has blessed us. We’ve been able to stay open and in business,” said Anthony VanPelt. “I thought we’d share some of that blessing.”

VanPelt is one of the owners of Progressive Dairy Systems, a dairy equipment supply and service company, in Columbiana, Ohio. He’d been hearing from his customers that some had been asked to dump milk, while others were asked to cut back production.

“That was putting some of my customers in a world of hurt,” he said. “I know it’s just a small gesture, but I thought I’d try to do my little part.”

That little part was buying three skids of milk — 576 gallons — from Marburger Farm Dairy to donate to local food banks and food pantries and give away at his business.

He got the idea from a story he read in Lancaster Farming about another agricultural businessman in south-central Pennsylvania ordering milk from a local processor to donate to food banks and give away to staff.

Dairy in need

VanPelt reached out to Marburger Farm Dairy, in Evans City, Pennsylvania, as many of his customers ship milk to them.

Marburger Farm Dairy asked its farmers — about 65 around the region — to reduce production by 15% earlier in the month. Jim Marburger, president of the dairy, said they’ve been dumping milk from their facility for at least two weeks now. They bottle their own milk and process other dairy products, and send milk to other processing plants.

In addition to the immediate upheaval of losing food service customers, a cheese plant they supply shut down last week.

“That was like 12-14 loads a week we put in there,” Marburger said.

In addition to VanPelt’s bulk order, Marburger said they have seen a big increase in sales from their on-farm store. Every little bit helps.

“We’ve got excess milk, no doubt about that,” he said. “With our farmers cutting back like they did, we’re not dumping as much as we thought we would be.”

Families in need

Two skids of milk went to Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, and smaller amounts are going to several community food pantries.

Mike Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, said their food pantries in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties went from serving 13,000 people weekly before the COVID-19 pandemic to about 18,000 a week. With many people unemployed due to the pandemic, the need for emergency food assistance has spiked.

“It’s gladly accepted,” Iberis said.

What was leftover from the donations — about 60 gallons — was available over the weekend at the Progressive Dairy Systems store, in Columbiana, to anyone who needed it. Some people took milk and gave donations to help out.

Since the need was so great, VanPelt is ordering three more skids this week from Marburger to keep getting milk from into the hands of those who need it and supporting dairy farmers.

“It’s difficult for small farms to keep going,” VanPelt said. “I sure hope we can get through this. A dairy farm doesn’t just tomorrow pick up where they left off. They have to build back up again for the loss.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is Farm and Dairy's editor and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County, where she co-manages the family farm raising beef cattle and sheep with her husband and in-laws. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts. She can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 724-201-1544.

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