by Enrico Villamaino
By necessity, dairy farms are mainly found in provincial communities. These same rural populations are often among those most affected by food insecurity. In the midst of COVID-19 shutdowns, dairy farmers are doing their best to help those in need.
Enter Pleasant Valley Farms. Located in Berkshire, VT, Pleasant Valley was founded in 1986 by Mark and Amanda St. Pierre. The dairy sells its milk to the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) cooperative. The DFA then uses Boston, MA, as a distribution hub to dispatch Pleasant Valley’s milk throughout New England.
In 2009, the St. Pierres expanded their business with the addition of a sugarbush. Pleasant Valley’s maple syrup is carried by Bascom Maple Farms. The maple syrup is also available at the farm’s on-site retail shop and can be ordered online and shipped throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Today, Pleasant Valley operates with between 60 and 80 full-time employees, depending on the time of year. This includes the St. Pierres’ children Jamie, Bradley and Meghan.
“These are very difficult times for so many,” Meghan said, who returned to the family farm in 2018 after studying public relations Champlain College in nearby Burlington. “Rural poverty is a serious problem in Vermont. So when the DFA contacted us about partnering up to help the disadvantaged, we were glad to help.”
The decline in food services such as restaurants and school cafeterias left dairy processors with a surplus of milk. The DFA, eager to find a use for this surplus, supplied Pleasant Valley Farms with 4,000 gallons of milk. Pleasant Valley then volunteered both the time and personnel necessary to hand out milk to local residents. The events took place in May at two separate locations.
“We had set up a station at St. Albans Coop Creamery in St. Albans City,” Meghan explained, “and another at Bourdeau Brothers Feed Company in Middlebury.” Each location featured a walk-up and a drive-thru option. In order to abide by the CDC’s recommended safety protocols regarding social distancing, drivers stayed in their cars while Pleasant Valley’s volunteers placed the milk in the trunk. Pleasant Valley oversaw the donation of 2,500 gallons of milk in St. Albans City and another 1,500 gallons in Middlebury.
“It was a great event. People were grateful and gracious. A lot of them would take just one gallon, but there were also so many people who would take an extra gallon or two to give to their homebound neighbors,” Meghan said. “It’s like the sign in front of our farm says – ‘We’re all in this together.’”
As is the case with so many other dairies, Pleasant Valley is doing its best in an uncertain time. Meghan added, “Obviously, milk prices are down, and we’re concerned about that. Our coop wants to minimize production, so we have to adjust accordingly.” Meghan was happy to report that, as of now, they have not had to resort to any layoffs.
“Like everyone else, we’re just trying to stay afloat,” she said.