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‘Give Gallons’ milk program helps families and farmers

January 18, 2019

The primary food bank serving southeastern Connecticut families received a donation of more than 200 gallons of locally produced milk earlier this month. It was the first delivery of what’s expected to be a steady, weekly supply of milk intended to benefit the region’s needy families via the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank.

North Stonington’s Terra Firma Farm launched its Give Gallons program as the new year began, a regional first. The program seeks to guarantee an ample supply of a food staple that otherwise is somewhat scarce at the food bank, which provides some 1.8 million meals and snacks annually to food pantries, meal sites, child care centers, shelters and programs for the elderly. Terra Firma’s goal is to provide 300 gallons a week, a goal farm owner Brie Casadei is confident soon will be met.

There’s much to like about this program that is being welcomed by food bank officials and supported by financial donations from many community members. First and foremost, it’s providing a needed food staple to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it. It also supports local dairy farms — the milk comes from Terra Firma and other local dairies — and connects farm supporters with the food bank and their neighbors in need.

Give Gallons is inspired by Feeding America’s Great American Milk Drive. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, says that while milk is one of the most requested items at food banks, it is rarely donated.

Some food banks not equipped with refrigerators or freezers can’t accept perishable food items. Milk’s relatively short shelf life means that even those like the Gemma Moran Food Bank in New London, which is equipped to accept it, need a process for quick distribution. Several supermarkets in the region donate milk and other dairy products to the Gemma Moran center when the food is approaching its “sell by” date.

If successful, Give Gallons will provide not only a steadier supply of milk, but also a more ample one. It will ensure the milk that is donated is extremely fresh and has the longest possible shelf life. On the supply side, the program also will guarantee a predictable level of milk sales to local dairy farms.

It’s no secret Connecticut’s dairy farmers are struggling to survive. The Hartford Courant reported in June there are barely 100 dairy farms left in Connecticut and even more farmers have recently decided to sell their herds because of the high cost of farming in the state, declining milk prices and worries over trade policies that have some countries seeking to buy dairy products from markets other than the U.S.

While the local food movement is a lifeline for small farms, farming remains largely a labor of love in the state. Terra Firma is a non-profit community farm that is supported by local residents. It, in turn, provides community benefits such as children’s camps and educational programs, along with its farm products. Give Gallons is one more program through which the farm can extend its community support, Casadei said.

Americans on average drink 18 gallons of milk annually per person. Food banks, on average nationally, can supply just one gallon of milk per person annually. Those at the New London food bank say lower-income residents also often do not buy dairy products because the cost consumes a relatively large portion of their food budgets. Donors to Give Gallons, however, can provide a half gallon or more of milk with every $5 they give.

Because it’s helping farmers, because it’s helping families, Give Gallons is a program worthy of community support.