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Local farms donate thousands of gallons of milk to those in need as market dissolves

Randy Jordan milked cows at Jordan Dairy Farms in Rutland.
Randy Jordan milked cows at Jordan Dairy Farms in Rutland.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Dairy farmers have been forced to dump milk into manure pits or down the drain since the commercial market dissolved practically overnight due to the coronavirus pandemic. With schools and restaurants closed, dairy farmers are stuck with gallons of milk they cannot sell.

In response, Dairy Farmers of America has partnered with Vanguard Renewables and HP Hood to fund the donation of 8,600 gallons of milk from Massachusetts farms to local families in need.

The Farmers Feeding Families event will be held Thursday at Boston College High School in Boston. Attendees will be allowed to take 2 gallons of milk per car or by walk-up from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or until the milk is gone. All participants must wear face coverings and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

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The milk will be distributed by members of the Massachusetts National Guard and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency along with volunteers from Vanguard Renewables.

“The removal of the commercial marketplace for dairy products has really derailed the supply chain," said Vanguard Renewables CEO John Hanselman. "Factories are very specifically designed to produce either products for the home consumer or products for the commercial market and when the entire commercial market disappears in three days, you can’t retool factories.”

Vanguard Renewables is a Wellesley based company that turns manure and other forms of organic waste into renewable natural gas or renewable electricity. By partnering with Hood, Vanguard Renewables can place surplus milk into manageable single-gallon containers to be distributed to those in need.

“We see this raw milk that if we just could raise some money and get it processed we could get it into the hands of people who, especially nowadays, are in such dire straits," Hanselman said. “That for us wasn’t even a question.”

Hanselman said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of local agriculture as it has become increasingly difficult to transport products from farms in Indiana to grocery stores in Boston.

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“Dairy farms are closing all the time. It’s a very tough business and it’s one where we’re really looking to see how you can create local incentives for all of the agriculture industry.”

Randy Jordan, co-owner of Jordan Dairy Farms in Rutland, said the market collapse has taken an emotional toll on farmers.

“There’s a lot of farmers that are on the edge,” said Jordan. “If there’s one thing that this is going to do for the dairy farmers, it’ll make them feel beneficial, helpful, and [give them] a reason to get up in the morning.”

Jordan is hoping that the Farmers Feeding Families event will stoke interest in local produce and increase local farm dairy sales after the pandemic comes to a close.

“[We] have the ability to help the people in need just like people hopefully will help the farmers some day,” said Jordan.