INTERLAKEN, N.Y. — An upstate New York dairy’s quick thinking and fast action are helping it and other farms survive the COVID-19 pandemic while helping feed hungry, financially struggling residents throughout the region.
Owners of Lively Run Dairy, one of the country’s longest-operating commercial goat dairies, were upset when they heard reports of milk being dumped because processing plants had reached full storage capacity.
So they devised a plan to purchase excess milk, using donations from a GoFundMe campaign, and use their own facilities to make cheese for distribution to area food banks. The effort, launched on April 17, raised more than $20,000 over the first weekend, and has now topped the $50,000 plateau.
“The campaign went viral on social media,” said Katie Shaw, the farm’s marketing and sales director. “Donations from $25 to $500 are coming from all over. People are passionate about what we’re doing. But we can’t keep up with the need at our own facility. So we’re working with the Center for Transformative Action, a non-profit affiliated with Cornell University, to expand our effort to include other dairies and artisan cheesemakers throughout New York state.”
In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted Lively Run Dairy’s work when promoting the state’s new Nourish NY initiative, which is providing $25 million to food banks for the purchase of surplus agricultural products from New York farms for distribution to populations who need them most.
This effort began on May 8 on Long Island, where the Island Harvest Food Bank held a drive-through food distribution to provide locally grown and raised products to 3,000 families impacted by the coronavirus. Numerous other events were planned across New York through May 15.
Lively Run Dairy is in Interlaken, a small community in the Finger Lakes Region on the west side of Cayuga Lake, midway between Seneca Falls and Ithaca.
Sales nosedived when the health crisis closed schools, colleges and restaurants, and threw many people out of work. Shaw said farm owners were seriously concerned about the dairy’s ability to survive the pandemic financially.
But the attention it’s received by helping others has greatly boosted direct-to-consumer retail sales, which are more profitable than wholesale accounts. So despite making less cheese overall, Lively Run can keep going, while finding time to make cheese that will be donated to food banks as well.
“We have a really awesome team and we’re small enough that we could adjust quickly,” Shaw said.
The first round of deliveries went to Interlaken Food Pantry, Ovid Food Pantry, Press Bay Food Pantry, and the Trumansburg Food Pantry on April 24.
“When we started seeing photos sent from our dairy friends and articles being published about farmers having to dump milk, we connected the dots and realized that we could help turn the situation around,” said Pete Messmer, head cheesemaker and farm co-owner. “We hope that our approach is picked up by other cheesemakers, as well. We’d love to see a movement of dairy being salvaged, and hunger being curtailed around the country.”
To ensure that the plan meets state standards and regulations, Messmer consulted with Rob Ralyea, the senior Extension associate at Cornell’s Department of Food Science.
“There are a lot of regulations surrounding milk and its marketing, so we need to make sure we do this all correctly,” Ralyea said. “The benefits will be that a dedicated and hardworking farmer’s milk gets used and hungry families get fed. I think it’s a noble idea.”
The plan has had an immediate positive impact on Andrew and Blake Place’s Hidden Pastures Goat Dairy in Glenfield, north of Utica. Using donations from the GoFundMe campaign, Lively Run Dairy began purchasing Hidden Pastures’ milk, which the Places had been dumping because they lost their market when the pandemic struck.
This unexpected business is keeping Hidden Pastures afloat, too, and its milk that Lively Run is turning into cheese is helping feed hungry families.
“This shows how small farms can make a difference, too, not just the big players,” Shaw said.
For information about the fundraising campaign, go to