A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

UK alums lead effort in Kentucky milk product giveaways, work with dairy farmers during pandemic

By Aimee Nielson
University of Kentucky

On a hot July day, cars lined up as far as the eye could see at Pulaski County High School to collect free dairy products. Similar lines are forming across the state.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many Kentuckians have adapted to temporary food and supplies shortages. Many have also become food insecure for the first time in their lives due to unexpected furloughs, layoffs and general unemployment struggles.

Similarly, dairy farmers have taken a big hit during the pandemic, seeing some of the lowest milk prices in their lives, a near-total collapse.

Volunteers handed out free dairy products in Pulaski County. (Photo by Roxanna Bishop)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program provided $3 billion to purchase food, including dairy products. Between $300-$500 million of that went to southern states like Kentucky. H.H. Barlow, a 1972 graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, is the executive director of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council.

Barlow is also a longtime dairy producer in Barren County with 140 cows, who produce more than 750 gallons of milk each day. He saw a wonderful opportunity to bring hope to producers and consumers.

“One of the things I have always loved about being in the dairy business is I am producing a very nutritious product. It is nature’s most perfect food. It’s got calcium, protein, energy, all of those things in our product and we are excited to give this product away,” he said. “The government actually awarded contracts to different companies to process the milk and distribute it to mainly food banks.”

Food banks quickly began to overflow with dairy products because they had no place to store them. Barlow said it was at that time, the council began to work with farmers to give away products through Prairie Farms and Borden to the general public. Other products were added to the giveaways such as flavored milk, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese and more.

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“To see the look on people’s faces when they get that free milk is really good because there are some people out there who are really needy and that is food for them,” Barlow said.

Handing out free dairy products requires many helping hands. Employees from Prairie Farms in Somerset, the Kentucky Dairy Development Council and Pulaski County High School’s FFA chapter were happy to help.

Pulaski County FFA advisor Janella Miller, a 2005 agricultural education graduate of the UK Department of Community and Leadership Development, bragged on the students who were willing to help in the hot, humid weather.

“They are very motivated to be out in the community,” she said. “They have been sheltered way too long, and they are hard workers, so it came natural. We love dairy, and we have lots of kiddos who have a history of dairy in their family. We have fewer dairies in Pulaski County now, but they still have connections to those roots. The kids appreciate it and the community appreciates it.”

The KDDC will continue the product drives and giveaways throughout the summer, including July 28 in Campbellsville, July 30 in Mayfield and Aug. 4 in Stanford. Visit www.kydairy.org for more information.

Aimee Nielson writes for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment

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