As part of his project at the Muncie Food Hub Partnership (MFHP), Joshua Gruver, associate professor of natural resources and environmental management, helped distribute around 1,500 gallons of milk each week to local emergency food organizations throughout the month of June.
Gruver, who serves as director of MFHP, said in email the milk distribution program was part of a collaboration with Delaware County Purdue Extension and Prairie Farms in Anderson, Indiana.
“The purpose of this project is to get food products that would be thrown out/wasted into the hands of people who would benefit from extra food and sustenance,” he said.
Usual food sales channels all over the country, Gruver said, had been disrupted by the pandemic. He said food such as milk, fruits and vegetables that can't be preserved for long periods of time are easy to throw away. As a result, some partnerships are distributing this food to those who need them most.
“Farmers have to apply to receive these funds — they then reach out to food distributors and others to help them get the food to where it needs to be,” he said. “This is incredibly significant because there are not many partnerships like ours [that] have the ability to store large amounts of food products and bring food to smaller venues and distribution points that we have connections with and access to.”
Prairie Farms, which applied for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides milk for the program, Gruver said. They reached out to organizations, like MFHP, that could help them distribute.
The milk distribution program, he said, won't have a big impact on local distributors.
“Most regular food distributors service restaurants, groceries, and other typical food outlets. We operate in a special niche — we serve communities and people with low food access and often low income,” Gruver said.
Purdue Extension reached out to MFHP because the organization knew MFHP had the expertise and knowledge to collaborate on the program, he said.
Laurynn Thieme, extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for Delaware County Purdue Extension, said in an email it is important to understand the community effort behind making a program like this possible.
“While we made the original contacts and pulled in MFHP — it still took the entire county and all of our connections as a community to get this [milk] into the hands of those that need it,” Thieme said.
At this point, she said the program has helped distribute more than 5,000 gallons of milk.
Lindsey Cox, Community Wellness Coordinator at Purdue Extension serving Delaware and Blackford Counties, said in an email this six-week program concluded at the end of June.
Cox said this project helped the organization build and deepen relationships with local people and was a good way to help people get food.
“One local pantry told me that ‘milk is a luxury item,’ and have been really grateful to be able to distribute gallons of milk to their local families,” she said.
The relationships built throughout the program was priceless, Cox said, adding she is excited to see what other opportunities might arise in the future through these relationships.
“Our community is full of amazing people and organizations, and seeing everyone come together to help get food and milk to our neighbors is inspiring,” she said.