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For families in western and central New York hurt by severe economic conditions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, relief is on the way – in the form of fresh, cold milk, delivered to local food banks.

The milk donations are courtesy of the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) cooperative in Syracuse; the Cornell Dairy processing plant in Stocking Hall; and 155 lactating cows at the Teaching Dairy Barn, part of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“In this time of need, it is important for Cornell to help and support our nearby communities,” said Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D. ’97, the Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety and director of Cornell’s Food Safety Laboratory and Milk Quality Improvement Program.

Cornell impacting New York State

The first run of 25,000 pounds of whole milk – 5,800 half-gallons cartons – left the dairy plant April 29, bound for Livingston, Genesee and Wyoming counties. A delivery to Cortland County food banks is scheduled for this week.

Cornell, DFA and Empire Livestock Marketing will partner to donate 3,000 half-gallons of free whole to families-in-need on Friday, May 8, at the Empire Livestock Marketing’s auction house, 49 E. Main Street, Dryden, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. while supplies last.

After this week’s deliveries, DFA will monitor extra milk supplies to determine where it will be needed.

Organizing the milk donations started in mid-April. Kirsty Northrop ’05, a fourth-generation owner of Lawnel Farms in Piffard, New York, 30 miles southwest of Rochester, spoke to Skylar Ryll ’10, the DFA’s director of milk marketing and operations, about organizing milk donations for food banks.

Concurrently, Matt Stratton, business manager for the Department of Food Science, called DFA to see if entities around the state needed extra milk, since most of the campus dining operations shut down March 13, when the university closed.

By April 24, Cornell had an agreement with the DFA to process milk from the Cornell barn, in order to donate to western and central New York food banks.

Providing milk to food banks is very challenging due to its perishable nature, said Jennifer Huson, DFA senior director for marketing. “We’re trying to figure out way to make a negative – the coronavirus crisis – into a positive,” she said.

To assist with distribution, DFA is working with Chicago-based Coyote Logistics, a supply chain management firm, to transport the milk to food banks. And Ongweoweh Corp, an Ithaca-based, Native American-owned pallet and packaging management firm, donated all the pallets to move the milk. Its general manager is Chuck Olin ’79.

Meanwhile, the dairy barn – where 155 cows each produce 85 pounds of milk daily – continues to be productive.

“We are happy to have these novel outlets for our milk,” said Blake Nguyen DVM ‘12, lecturer in animal science, who supervises the dairy barn. “We’re helping families in need.”

In addition to helping families, Cornell continues to help commercial dairy operations, said Wiedmann.

During the pandemic, the processing plant has developed and tested new ways to effectively implement social distancing, and then disseminated that information to commercial processors throughout New York.

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