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Cheesemaker buys excess milk, donates dairy products to food banks

Lively Run Dairy
Steve and Suzanne Messmer packaging cheese donations.

Local dairy farmers are reacting positively to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for New York State to connect farms with companies who will buy excess milk, process it into yogurt and cheese, and donate it to food banks in need. Dairy farms have had to dump milk because processing plants ran out of capacity. But one local farm has already been doing what the governor is proposing.

Ray Lockwood is president of the Cayuga County Farm Bureau and his son owns the family’s farm, Half Acre Dairy, which has about 225 cows. About three weeks ago, they had to dump about 4,000 gallons of milk.

“That’s awful, awful, heart breaking when you watch your milk go down the drain when it’s a perfectly good, sellable product,” Lockwood said.

They ship to Byrne Dairy in Syracuse, who sells it to the Upstate Niagara Co-Op and neither had the capacity for any more storage. With the loss of high volume orders from schools and restaurants, the milk can’t be sold fast enough.

“Cows are 24/7, they keep producing,” Lockwood said.

He said the plan to get the state to connect farms with companies who will buy the excess milk and produce dairy products for food banks, is a good one.

“This would be a great thing for them to tool up and get it into anybody that needs it,” Lockwood said.

Credit Lively Run Dairy
Farmers have been forced to dump excess milk.

Some are already doing just that. Steve Messmer is one of the owners of Lively Run Dairy, which makes cheese about 20 miles north of Ithaca. Messmer said he was hearing horror stories from local dairy farmers.

“They were calling us, literally, we had calls from a number of them saying, ‘Can you help us?’” Messmer said.  

So, they started a GoFundMe campaign, and raised more than $40,000 online, to cover the cost of buying the surplus milk and making it into cheese. Each week, they’re donating about 400 lbs of cheddar cheese curd and cream cheese made from goat milk, to food banks in the Finger Lakes.

"It helps the dairy farmer, it helps us not have lay off our own cheese people and it gets food to food banks," Messmer said.

He said they were thrilled to hear about the governor’s Nourish New York program. But now the challenge is getting through to the governor’s office, so they can receive some state funding to continue and expand on what they’re doing.

Tom Magnarelli is a freelance reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area.
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