This National Dairy Month, Farmers Are Focused on Feeding Those in Need
Pennsylvania dairy farmer Louie Diamond rarely hesitates when he sees an opportunity to help someone in need.
He traveled to New Orleans to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. Years later, he was in Puerto Rico to assist with recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean. He also spent time assisting families in Iowa impacted by Mississippi River flooding.
So, it’s of little surprise Diamond has jumped in to help amid the COVID-19 crisis. His inspiration came from seeing Fayette County residents waiting in a long line of cars to receive a box of food donated by the Salvation Army. The box mostly contained canned goods. Milk was noticeably absent.
He asked someone associated with the food drive if they would welcome a milk donation. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
Diamond started “connecting the dots” from there. He contacted the American Dairy Association North East (ADANE), which builds demand and sales for dairy on behalf of 10,000 farmers in Pennsylvania and five other states. ADANE reached out to Dairy Farmers of America, a co-operative that markets milk for Diamond and other farmers.
Before long, a supply of milk made its way to Fayette County that Diamond says should continue through July.
“I’m not the important part of this, and way more people did a whole lot more than me, but I guess it wouldn’t have started if I didn’t do what I did,” Diamond said. “We’re a poor county, and we don’t always get a lot of help. But sometimes it’s because people don’t know to ask. If you don’t ask for help, you’ll never get it. People want to help others right now.”
Dairy farmers have not been excluded from the hardships of the COVID-19 crisis as closed schools and restaurants have dried up the normally steady destinations for their milk production. Yet, farmers have been declared one of the country’s critical infrastructure industries and, despite the economic setbacks, the nation’s 37,000 dairy farm families have kept milk flowing to consumers.
An honest job, a great way of life
Normally, June – National Dairy Month – is a time when farmers such as Diamond are celebrated. It’s a longstanding industry tradition that started in 1937 to help stabilize dairy demand during periods of peak production. World Milk Day also is June 1, a celebration that began in 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to recognize the importance of milk as a global food.
Diamond won’t pause to celebrate much as he and his brother, Paul, also his business partner, will stay busy milking and caring for their 130 cows. Yet, Diamond wonders if consumers who are generations removed from farming will see agriculture differently amid the pandemic.
“We’ve always had a great nutritious product, and this is one more time where we’re showcasing just how important it is for people,” Diamond said. “We make the same great product 365 days a year. It’s always there for consumers and it may even be taken for granted sometimes. One of the things that has come out of this situation is maybe people started thinking, ‘What if there are empty store shelves? What if we can’t get milk?’”
Despite the challenging times and the long days farming brings, Diamond has no regrets about a career choice he made. He grew up on a farm but started his professional career working as an accountant. However, the call of the farm brought him home when he and his wife, Gail, started having children.
“As an accountant, my kids didn’t want to hear that I worked on capital gains all day when I came home,” Diamond said. “But if I came home and said, ‘We had a baby calf today and I fed it and I took care of it and made sure the mom was OK,’ my kids could understand that. It was a great way to raise them.”
Though his kids are now grown, Diamond’s love of farm life remains as strong as ever.
“I get up every morning at 4:15 to get to the barn,” he said. “It’s the same thing seven days a week. We’re always focused on making a quality product for consumers and caring for our cows. It’s an honest job, a great way of life.”