Pennsylvania stands at the promising start of another growing season, with the first cutting of hay under way, corn up several inches and delayed strawberries finally here.
In agriculture, we pride ourselves on growing food that feeds the world. But even as our farmers sell their plentiful crops to neighbors or buyers around the world, an estimated 842 million people worldwide go hungry.
Our department can’t change the world, but we’re improving life for Pennsylvanians.
Our Bureau of Food Distribution combats hunger with programs like the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which is ramping up now to help qualifying mothers and older Pennsylvanians purchase fresh PA Preferred produce this summer. And while the bureau helps administer USDA’s school lunch program, in just a few days kids will be leaving schools — and balanced meals — behind for summer vacation.
That drop in demand spurred the creation of National Milk Month in 1937, promoting drinking milk. The name soon changed to Dairy Month, a celebration of the entire industry, and continues to encourage people to enjoy three servings of dairy products daily.
Kids and adults need the nutrition that milk provides from vitamins, minerals and protein. That’s why the USDA recommends three servings of dairy products every day.
Food bank clients across the country often request milk, but there’s a nationwide shortage because milk is rarely donated.
That’s about to change.
Thanks to a new partnership between government, private business and nonprofits, central Pennsylvania will soon implement a pilot program to provide fresh milk, ready to drink, to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
The food bank serves 23 million meals yearly to more than 54,000 Pennsylvanians through 800 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, low-income child centers and senior centers.
The idea took root when we saw the opportunity to get milk to those who need it. We brought together our partners at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association to leverage the network of dairy producers and the food bank’s 27-county reach.
With assistance from the Center for Dairy Excellence, Dean Foods, Harrisburg Dairies, Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and dairy farmers, we developed a pilot program that’s about to begin feeding hungry Pennsylvanians.
This partnership lets us work toward the goal of a long-term, sustainable supply of milk in the food bank system and increases the consumption of milk by getting it into the hands of consumers who otherwise might not be able to enjoy a glass.
It gives them fresh, nutritious milk and helps Pennsylvania’s dairy farm families. We hope it will evolve into a model that states across the country can follow.
As the fifth-highest milk producing state in the nation, Pennsylvania produces enough milk that we sometimes have a surplus, which is shipped to plants for butter, cheese and powdered milk — items that won’t spoil as quickly as fluid milk.
This program will use that extra, higher-value fluid milk, bringing more money to producers and satisfying the need for high-quality fresh milk that our dairy industry can provide.
After all, Pennsylvania ranks fifth nationally in milk production, with 532,000 cows on nearly 7,900 family farms producing 10.5 billion pounds of milk last year.
Milk production alone contributes more than 26 percent of all of Pennsylvania’s agricultural income. Nine cows support one job and contribute $13,700 to Pennsylvania’s economy.
It’s no wonder that milk was named the official beverage of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The plan for providing milk is in place and our partners are working to make this happen by midmonth. I thank them all for stepping up to the plate.
This could be the start of a movement in dairy states across the nation in sourcing fresh, local milk from our farmers to fellow citizens who are at risk for hunger. It certainly gives us something to celebrate this Dairy Month.
George Greig is the Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture.