Helping families in need

Dairy farmers give back  

Keren Taylor-Hughes remembers the first time she saw the milk delivery truck roll in. It was January 2018 and her first week as the new CEO of Winnipeg Harvest. Taylor-Hughes wondered why over 6,000 litres of milk was being unloaded into Winnipeg Harvest’s refrigerators. She was witnessing the routine deliveries that have taken place for almost 30 years.

In fact, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba (DFM) donates over 300,000 litres of milk to Winnipeg Harvest each year. The milk is processed and packaged into one-litre cartons of milk, and also used to make cheese. Winnipeg Harvest distributes the milk and cheese along with its other food donations to 300 community food banks and agencies in Winnipeg and throughout Manitoba. “Every child aged 12 and under gets one litre of milk every two weeks,” confirms Taylor-Hughes.

Last year, Winnipeg Harvest provided food support to more than 70,000 people a month, including 25,000 children. Taylor-Hughes said that without dairy farmers in our province, hungry Manitobans would have little access to fresh nutritious milk and cheese unless Winnipeg Harvest purchased it for distribution.  

“I am so impressed with Dairy Farmers of Manitoba’s long-standing support of Winnipeg Harvest.” says Taylor-Hughes. “Their commitment to nourishing vulnerable Manitobans has never wavered.”

In 1992, Louis Balcaen, a dairy farmer from La Broquerie, 69 km southeast of Winnipeg, saw families in his community struggling to provide nutritious food for their kids. Farming is ultimately about feeding people and Balcaen knew there was something he and other dairy farmers could do to help.

At the time Balcaen was chair of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba. He worked with Parmalat (now Lactalis) and the bulk milk hauling companies to create a program that would donate over 14,000 litres of milk per month in one-litre cartons to Winnipeg Harvest.

Then in 2009, Bothwell Cheese joined the effort and started turning a portion of that donation into cheese for Winnipeg Harvest.

The program has truly become an effort of neighbour helping neighbour. DFM administers the program – with dairy farmers donating the milk, bulk milk hauling companies transporting the milk at no cost, and Lactalis and Bothwell Cheese donating their processing costs.

“We have the ability to move the milk to Winnipeg Harvest,” explains David Wiens, current chair of DFM. “Winnipeg Harvest’s food network is the best way to get our donation to those who need it.”

Those long-standing relationships help buffer against uncertain times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. During COVID-19, Winnipeg Harvest expected a 30 per cent increase in clients using food banks throughout the province and prepared a record 1,000 emergency food hampers a day.

During this time, Wiens explained DFM is donating an additional 60,000 litres of milk monthly, which Bothwell Cheese is processing into approximately 6,000 kilograms of cheese for Winnipeg Harvest each month.

 “We feel privileged to partner with Winnipeg Harvest to help families in need,” Wiens said.

Photos in story supplied by Winnipeg Harvest

Photo in header image by Sherri Mangin

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