Cheese for good
When dairy demand shrank due to COVID-19, Amber Dwyer, right, of Synergy Cooperative helped find creative solutions for Wisconsin dairy farmers’ milk.
In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and restaurants across the country, demand for milk shrank and milk prices plummeted. By May, Dairy Farmers of America estimated that farmers were dumping 3.7 million gallons of milk every day.
The news hit close to home for Amber Dwyer. As marketing and special projects specialist at Synergy Cooperative in Ridgeland, Wis., she interacts every day with the co-op’s dairy farmer-owners. “We always have the farmers’ best interests in mind,” Dwyer says. “We wanted to figure out the best way to make an impact for our owners during this hard time.”
The idea: Cheese for a Greater Good. “If we could pull cheese from local dairy co-ops,” says Dwyer, “the farmers that we also service wouldn’t have to dump milk.”
Dwyer connected with Kristin Huset, the Ridgeland village clerk. Huset helped Synergy buy the cheese tax-exempt from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery and Burnett Dairy Cooperative, then Synergy employee volunteers distributed the cheese to local food pantries and schools.
Most of the cheese went to Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire, Wis., which distributes food to local food banks. Cheese was also donated to the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser school district. More than 3,000 pounds of cheese curds and 7,500 pounds of shredded mozzarella were donated to help residents in 14 Wisconsin counties.
Synergy Cooperative owners, many of whom also do business with local creameries, are used to their products going to schools, as the National School Lunch Program is the largest buyer of milk. “Our farmers were happy knowing their dairy products were continuing to serve schools and families in need,” says Dwyer.
This article appeared as part of the cover story in C magazine. Read the full article for more stories about how others are giving back to their local communities.