As our economies and food systems have been disrupted due to COVID-19, the number of food-insecure households across the U.S. has skyrocketed. At the same time, farmers and food producers have seen business from restaurants and institutions disappear overnight.
In response, members of the cheese community have stepped in to help. Some are stepping up production to meet increased demand for donations to food banks while supporting struggling dairy farms being forced to dump excess milk at the same time. Others are focused on amplifying small-scale cheesemakers who are struggling the most with lost business or canceled markets. And others, like Cheese Grotto, are donating a portion of sales to these causes.
For National Cheese Day, we wanted to shine a light on how cheesemakers are looking out for dairy farmers, families in need, and their fellow producers. Here’s how some of these businesses and initiatives are giving back to their communities.
Boxcarr Handmade Cheese, Cedar Grove, NC
You’d think that a creamery that lost 70 percent of its business due to COVID-19 would scale down production. But at Boxcarr Handmade Cheese, the solution was to develop a whole new product—a mozzarella-cheddar hybrid called Save Our Farmers Cheese.
This has allowed co-owners and siblings Samantha and Austin Genke to keep purchasing cow’s milk from their small, local supplier dairies through the crisis and donate more than 6,000 pounds of this appealing cheese to food banks and community feeding programs in nearby Hillsborough, Raleigh, and Durham since the pandemic hit (donate here to support Boxcarr in this initiative). The creamery has also been offering free relief boxes packed with three to five pounds of cheese to their neighbors who are out of work due to the pandemic.
Lively Run Dairy, Interlaken, NY
When restaurants around the Finger Lakes closed down in March, America’s longest-running goat cheese producer lost about half its business. Not long after, cheesemaker Pete Messmer heard that neighboring dairy farms that have been in business for generations were going under and selling off herds due to disastrously low milk prices and disrupted supply chains.
He decided to take action, launching a fundraiser to pay local dairies a premium for their excess milk and turning it into nutritious, high-quality cheese that would be donated to food banks. In six weeks, the campaign has blown past its original $20,000 goal, with $48,000 and counting raised to support dairy farmers and feed communities in need. And Messmer is working to create a nonprofit that will grow the program to other dairy farms across the state, which has been hit hard by the ongoing dairy crisis even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cheese Grotto is supporting Lively Run’s important work to keep dairy farms in business and fight food insecurity in New York state. Five percent of sales from May 7th through June 7th will be donated to the project.
Beehive Cheese, Uintah, UT
With food banks hurting for donations, the folks behind Beehive Cheese wanted to help. The plan was to crowdfund the cost of milk and labor to make a batch of Promontory, their flagship cheddar style, destined for the Utah Food Bank. But after donors blew past their initial fundraising goal in less than 24 hours, Project Promontory got bigger—and even got featured on the Today show.
Beehive is now in the process of crowdfunding its sixth batch of Promontory for the food bank (you can contribute here). When it’s complete, the creamery will have raised $36,000 to produce 8,100 pounds of cheese to feed 4,050 families in their community.
Victory Cheese, Everywhere
As cheesemakers across the country have felt the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses, some have been able to pivot quickly to online sales. But others have had difficulty staying afloat because of factors like restaurant and farmers’ market shutdowns, while others struggled to sell highly perishable springtime cheeses they rely on for quick cash flow at the start of the season.
To help these small cheese businesses across the country, a volunteer team of cheese professionals has developed Victory Cheese, a branded cheese box to help small makers reach new customers and educate consumers about the precarious state of the cheese world right now.
Best of all, anyone who wants to support cheesemakers in their area can sell one, from restaurants and cheese shops to cheesemakers and cheese guilds, and small makers get the branding and marketing support they need to get their cheese into consumers’ hands. Here’s how you can find a Victory Cheese box in your area. Stay tuned for a Victory Cheese Box from Cheese Grotto, coming soon!
How are you supporting independent farms and food insecure communities in your area? Let us know in the comments!