A little milk goes a long way in Mt. Hope

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By Correne Martin

 

It all started with a small business that wanted to donate milk to help dairy farmers who were dumping surplus milk at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. 

It has since become a dairy promotion spread throughout Grant County and beyond that’s lifted local spirits and brought awareness to the dairy industry. It’s also brought a buzz to the little community of Mt. Hope, which had to cancel its annual Dairy Day celebration this year.

The ball got rolling around mid-April. 

Allegiant Oil in Lancaster approached farm radio personality Bob Middendorf, of WGLR 97.7, with the desire to give away 100 gallons of milk per week in their community. The Farm Show host contacted Grant and Lafayette county dairy promotion groups and got them on board to chip in one-time donations of 100 gallons of milk. Then, a Prairie Farms dairy farmer connected with Middendorf and gave another 300 gallons. 

“We had 600 gallons to start, and we distributed them to schools like Potosi, Cassville, Southwestern, Cuba City and Benton,” Middendorf recalled. 

The next move was to see if this little effort could grow into northern Grant County. 

So Middendorf contacted friend Dick Lambert, owner of Home-A-Gins in Mt. Hope, to ask if he would have enough refrigerated storage space for the milk. Lambert, a 40-year former dairy farmer himself, of course, agreed and said he’d like to buy the first 100 gallons to make available in his community. 

“From there, more people started stepping up and it expanded greatly,” Middendorf said. 

Each week, Mt. Hope quickly received enough donations to offer 100 pounds of butter in addition to 120 gallons of milk. Small businesses, village residents, dairy farmers, and others eagerly gave what they could. Lambert said, through word of mouth and social media, the milk and butter just as quickly went out the door too. This was despite his tavern being closed to regular customers due to the coronavirus.

Wanting to add cheese to the mix, and with plenty of cash contributions in hand, volunteer and Mt. Hope area resident Kris Hall contacted Meister Cheese in Muscoda to buy product for the promotion. The cheese factory said, yes, they would participate, but they didn’t want money for the cheese. The business instead opted to donate “a ton of cheese,” Hall said, if someone would come and pick it up.

“In five days, that cheese was gone,” she noted. “People were coming from a ways away. It was just crazy.”

One obvious dairy favorite missing from the free food supply was ice cream. 

Just about that time, having heard about these successful giveaways on the radio, Jason Cathman, of Culver’s in Prairie du Chien, was moved to help out. It was the end of May.

“I got thinking, with our county fairs and dairy breakfasts being canceled, these events all help promote the dairy industry. So I need to do what I can to support this,” he said.

Cathman and his agriculture-reliant family business, which scoops thousands of dishes of custard yearly at these events, chose to make pints of frozen custard and add them to the promotion’s freezers in Mt. Hope. They went through 1,000 pints pretty fast, and expect to give away 2,000 before the month of June is done.

“Culver’s really relies on the dairy industry and the farmers getting up every day,” he added. Though he knows a pint of custard isn’t as essential as milk, butter and cheese, he feels “it’s something little we can do to put a smile on someone else’s face.”

The expansive promotion has continued full force throughout June, and Middendorf isn’t sure when it will conclude exactly. “We have a sizeable amount of money people have donated yet,” he stated. 

Anyone, from anywhere, looking to add some homegrown dairy to their refrigerators and freezers is welcome to stop by Home-A-Gins and ask for the products. Some pass through only to grab the grocery items. Looking to “pay it forward,” others even stop and grab a basket of French fries or a soda before going on their way. 

Lambert is merely happy to do his part. “I’m glad to help the farmers. My customers are farmers,” he said.

Since the beginning of this promotion, dairy goods have been donated to food pantries in Boscobel, Lancaster, Platteville and into Lafayette County as well. 

“It’s more mental, more psychological,” Middendorf said of the impact. “The big thing is recognizing the dairy farmers.”

“It’s surprising how well this went,” Hall commented. “With all the bad that’s been going on, with the farmers struggling and having to dump out their hard-earned milk, I’m glad we were all able to do something.”

Cathman added, “We have to continue to help support this industry.”

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