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Food pantries, local farmers team up for National Dairy Month

Food pantries, local farmers team up for National Dairy Month

SYCAMORE – Dairy farmer Bill Deutsch drove to Springfield on Wednesday to have a glass of milk with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Deutsch, chairman of the Illinois division of the Midwest Dairy Association, joined members of the National Dairy Council as they met with the governor to celebrate National Dairy Month and the council’s centennial year.

“This administration values the importance of agriculture to the economy,” Deutsch said. “It was a good experience; it was very unique.”

In appreciation of these farms and the dairy they produce, Illinois will end National Dairy Month with a Boone County Breakfast on the Farm from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. today at Friendly Franseen Acres in Poplar Grove.

Deutsch said it’s important Rauner and other state officials understand the hard work that goes into a glass of milk, and the process it takes to get it on supermarket and food pantry shelves.

Deutsch wakes up at 3:30 most mornings to herds of cows stamping their hooves and craning their necks around pen walls at his Lukens Road farm, excited to be milked.

“Cows love to be milked,” Deutsch said. “They produce so much more milk than what the calf can drink.”

Higher-producing cows can provide as much as nine to 10 gallons a day, but a calf can only drink about one to two gallons a day, Deutsch said.

He is responsible for harvesting milk that makes its way from cows to bowls of cereal and baby bottles across Northern Illinois.

Twice a day, Deutsch or one of his six employees attach cows to one of 16 milking stations, where they collect milk. Then the milk goes into a steel tank, where it chills and waits to be shipped for pasteurization.

The milking process alone takes hours, Deutsch said.

“As technology is introduced to the industry, most people try to take advantage of that to produce larger volumes of milk at [better] margins just like every other industry,” Deutsch said. “It makes it a lot more efficient both from the standpoint of energy, and our carbon footprint is a lot less, too.”

Deutsch’s herd of dairy cows is one of about 693 in Illinois, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dairy enthusiasts also can attend the Rock Island County Dairy Show from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 15 and 16 at The Rock Island County Fairgrounds for a final celebration.

The Northern Illinois Food Bank has taken a different approach to National Dairy Month, however, and chosen to promote a program that helps provide milk to families who can’t afford it.

“Dairy is one of the most requested items that our hungry neighbors ask for. It’s expensive for them to get, but it’s a staple in a household,” said Donna Lake, director of communications and philanthropy for the food bank.

The food bank has partnered with Prairie Farms in Rockford for a program called Milk2MyPlate.

Milk for the program is bought by Muhler-Pinehurst Dairy in Rockford – the same dairy Deutsch sells to.

It is likely some of his milk is distributed to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and school cafeterias in the area, Deutsch said.

Milk2MyPlate helps provide free milk to community members across 36 counties and has become a model program for other pantries, Lake said.

“It goes straight to the food pantry where it is distributed to people in need,” Lake said. “We now deliver about 12,000 gallons of milk a month.”

A donation of $15 will provide a gallon milk a week to a person in need for three months, she said.

“We see that there’s a demand there, and we see that there’s a need there,” she said. “One mom told me, ‘I know that I can always get cereal here, but I don’t always have milk.’ It’s just made a big difference in her life. She also had a young toddler, and she was looking at it from that standpoint, too.”

Deutsch’s daughters drank milk straight from the dairy barn in the family’s back yard, Deutsch said. That is, until the family doctor expressed his concerns.

“After a while [people will] realize that some of the natural enzymes and proteins are actually easier for you to digest,” he said.

Whether it is whole milk or skim milk, and no matter where it comes from, dairy is a household staple that should be afforded to everyone, Lake said.

“You think of milk on cereal or you think of milk as a glass of milk but until you go to make pancakes or mac [and] cheese, you don’t realize how universal that is in recipes,” she said.

By about 7 p.m. each day, the cows are fed, the milk is chilling and families across Northern Illinois are gaining access to a basic necessity.

“I just think it’s a real win-win for the community in that we’re able to provide this highly nutritious product to people in need,” Lake said. “This program’s made possible through the generosity of the community.”

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