Farm Food Facts

Dairy Farmers of America Work With Vanguard Renewables to Feed Food Insecure Families

September 15, 2020 USFRA Episode 91
Farm Food Facts
Dairy Farmers of America Work With Vanguard Renewables to Feed Food Insecure Families
Show Notes Transcript

Today it's all about farmers feeding families.

Joining us today are John Hanselman, Chairman and CEO of Vanguard renewables, the largest recycler of food waste in the Northeast who's passionate about recycling organic once considered waste into renewable energy and low carbon fertilizer for food manufacturers, corporations, and food retailers and enhancing regenerative agriculture practices alongside Vanguard farm partners. 

Joining John is David Darr, senior vice president, chief strategy and sustainability officer of Dairy Farmers of America. David leads, cooperative efforts on sustainability, including environmental footprinting animal care and corporate social responsibility working together. They created the farmers feeding families program, donating milk to families in need since the pandemic started DFA and Vanguard.

Phil:

US Farmers and Ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2020 Honor the Harvest forum . Welcome to the U S Farmers and Ranchers and action weekly video podcast for Wednesday, September 16th, 2020. I'm your host, Phil Lempert . And today it's all about farmers feeding families. My guests today are John Hanselman, co founder , chairman and CEO of Vanguard renewables, the largest recycler of food waste in the Northeast who's passionate about recycling organic once considered waste into renewable energy and low carbon fertilizer for food manufacturers, corporations, and food retailers and enhancing regenerative agriculture practices alongside Vanguard farm partners. Joining John is David Darr, senior vice president, chief strategy and sustainability officer of Dairy Farmers of America. David leads, cooperative efforts on sustainability, including environmental footprinting animal care and corporate social responsibility working together. They created the farmers feeding families program, donating milk to families in need since the pandemic started DFA and Vanguard. How did you get connected and how do you work together, John? Why don't you lead this off?

John:

Sure. So , um , Dave and I actually have been working together for the better part of six years. So six, five, sorry, six or seven years ago. Um, Dave and I were introduced , uh, an instant bond between the two of us and kind of a common shared vision of how to help , uh , farmers , uh, again, who are our greatest stewards of land to take their , their carbon footprint down , uh , by recycling their organic waste. Um, so we we've been working on that for a long time. And , uh, David one day kind of started talking about , um, the program that they'd started to try and see if they could get milk out to families that were in need. Um, we started seeing a whole lot of , um, raw milk that was coming into our digesters for recycling. That was something that was new and different for us, where we very, very normally kind of get wash water from the milk plants we get , um , off-spec product, we get out of date, product , um, all of that that made a lot of sense to us, but to all of a sudden starts the wrong mill showing up at the digesters was real surprise . And so I brought that up today and he mentioned, Hey, we we've started this program and a fund , uh, where we've taken all the co op members and gotten together in this early COVID days. I'd say, David, this was back in probably February or March. Yeah, it goes back to the early days. And obviously, I mean, covert Cove, it's been disruptive to everything that we do and the dairy industry , um,

David:

Right. Hit just as hard as as many other industries. And, and there was definitely a period of time and know March through April where , um, because of disruptions in supply and demand , uh , shutdowns to the economy, you know, we had a period of time where there was more milk being produced and then could be marketed. And for our family farm owners across the country, more than 7,500 family farms, there's nothing [inaudible] that makes them feel worse than, than having to work hard to care for their cows to produce high quality milk. I have no place to go with it. And so actually for us, the DFA, the farmers feed and family fund, it was actually really kicked off by a phone call from, from one of our dairy farmer members who said, how can I help? And when we're in this time of, of surplus milk, you know, is there things that we can do to be able to get this nutrition and in the hands and in the bodies of people who need it and in one phone call led to another, and all of a sudden we had an initiative, a DFA, and a , another way to collaborate with our friends at Vanguard.

Phil:

So David, how difficult , um, and, and a question for both of you, how difficult was it to put in place a system that would, you know, make these resources a reality?

David:

Yeah, I'd say first off, there is a tremendous amount of infrastructure throughout the United States to be able to get food and food products, to people in need, you know , organizations like feeding America, do a tremendous job across the country and their network of thousands or tens of thousands of food banks and pantries that they work with. Um, we also wanted to continue to see how we can work with them, but also if there was other ways to provide immediate products to immediate people in need, you know, where could we work with the system, but , but, but still go just a little bit outside to try to be flexible and adaptable and very nimble. And so some of the things, and maybe I'll let John talk through some of the details of it, but, you know, it came through a phone conversation or two, and all of a sudden it was with what if we just provide a semi truck load of gallons of milk and just let people come to a , a location and come get a couple gallons if they need it, I'm still working within the nutrition system, but just seeing what we could do to be nimble and fast. So that's a simple solution, but John I'm sure it was very complicated to get to the point of having gallons of milk on tractor trailers and lots of partners, including the national guard. I talked to us a bit about what those partners, who those partners are and what role

John:

And David, it kind of hit the nail on the head. It was what was remarkable to me is how quickly DFA and its partners and its milk processing partners in the community were able to kind of come together with truckloads of milk. That was a breathtaking, but what turned out to be the real challenge was kind of the ground level grassroots action that we had to take. Um, as David said, there is an infrastructure in place for delivering , um, nutrition to families in need, but it's , it's , um, it doesn't respond quickly and well, and , and we were mid crisis then, you know, family after family that actually ended up coming to the, to the milk , uh , deliveries that we set up , um, were folks who were recently unemployed. People who were really scared and really , um, kind of , uh, addressing food insecurity for the first time. And so what we were able to do is get , um, the folks like the national guard. And we were incredibly fortunate to start here in Massachusetts, where we have a lot of good friends. We had , um, our local rep , uh, Shawn Dooley, just an amazing guy who reached out to the governor. The governor is a huge fan, you know, Massachusetts, isn't a massive dairy state. Um , but we are , we are really , uh, very aggressive about supporting agriculture. And so the governor got behind it with rep Dooley and , um, was able to , uh, very quickly , um , bring national guard troops to us. Um , we had state troopers, we had local Boston police for it. We did five different locations in the state , um, on a , on a continuing basis. Uh , and so we did is basically built an infrastructure at these common locations. We used , uh , uh, Boston college, high school downtown. We used a casino out in the middle part of the state. We used a food bank in Springfield and an East location. We got the, the local , um, uh, public health and safety folks together. Um, that was just a lot of phone calls and a lot of begging and pleading. Um , again, once you tell someone we've got tractor trailer loads of milk for families in need , um, people jumped to it. And , um, the , the , the greatest challenge for us was, was probably not the logistics of getting all the health and safety folks together. That that was , um , once we found the right people to help us that moved very, very , uh , efficiently, the challenge was really , uh , getting the word out. Um, so communicating to the folks where the drop-offs were going to be, how we want it to deal. It was early days of COVID when we first started. So we really needed to talk about safety and talk about , um, getting people through. We , uh , we chose to have people in vehicles for the vast majority of it, which turned out to be great. Um, but at the logistics of that, thank goodness national guard , um , those guys crushed it. Uh, so we had , um, and , and that's the beauty of that. They , they understand logistics, they understand the moving people. And so we had all of the cones and signs. We made up a whole lot of signs about staying in your car, pop your trunk, we'll we'll deliver the milk. And , and , uh, it worked beautifully. Uh, that was the amazing thing is that , that it actually didn't, you know, from the very first one and we were, we were , uh, candidly pretty terrified that , uh , when we were going to , and we got thousands and thousands of vehicles to move through, and obviously you want to keep the milk at temperature. You want to keep it children and cold. Um, our partners that had heard and Grelik who are local milk processors here in Massachusetts , uh, were dynamite , uh , just phenomenal in terms of getting us product , keeping it chilled so that we could deliver it into the car , uh, at temperature and know that they could make it home wherever, as long as the driver was going to take , um , and not have a risk with the milk. So that was, that was the key,

Phil:

You know , first of all, congratulations, it's a fabulous program. That's , that's the good news. Um, but the bad news is for me that feeding America has said that all the progress that they've made over the past decade on helping food insecurity will likely be wiped out by the pandemic. What do we all need to do now to, to, you know, get back on, on firm footing here?

David:

Uh , I can say from , from our perspective, you know, we , we took this idea and a concept called farmers, feeding families and in the initial stages of , or really about how do we get short term products into the hands of people, any way we can, whether that's a drive through event or whatever it is, you know, what we're now starting to evolve and saying, well, how can we take this concept and make it more of a sustainable business model? And in terms of continuing to support food banks across the country , uh , so that they can support the people and their communities. And we're, we're completely understanding that the food bank system is seeing the volumes and demands that they've never seen before. Uh , we , we recently kind of took a next step with our farmers feeding family fund. And, and we're now looking to see, well, where are there food banks, where we can use this money from dairy farmers and from our customers, and from partners like Vanguard and to help build more refrigeration capabilities within local food banks so that they continue to have the infrastructure to better be able to support their communities and , and the people who use them versus just providing a gallon of milk.

Phil:

So, David , um , my grandfather's a dairy farmer, matter of fact, in, in New Jersey. Um, so big , uh , big supporter of milk. So when I look at a program like this , um, what I also see is the health and nutrition benefit , uh, besides just giving milk , um, to the food insecure. But, you know, is it, is it possible that what we're going to also see as an outcome, are these families getting healthier as a result of getting all this milk?

David:

Well, in my opinion, they're , they're far from the early ones, but, but dairy farmers are amongst , uh , that the heroes in our communities and our societies as we've gone through this , uh, the , the , this pandemic and all of the chaos that , that it's caused, you know, dairy farmers across the country, whether it's good times or bad, and that they're committed to their animals, they're committed to their environment. They're committed to providing high quality nutrition , uh , for , for our communities and , and people around the world. And, and I think some of the efforts and initiatives that we've seen , uh, through things like farmers, feeding families are just great examples of that and that when things are good , um, they're, they're committed to their communities. They're committed to giving back. And even when things aren't so good and times are challenging, you know, their commitment just like to their cows is there every day , uh, to, to do what's right for the longterm . So...

John:

So on one of the things, just if I could interject one of the things that I'd heard, and this is from someone much smarter than me , uh , is that the pandemic hasn't broken the United States, it's opened the cracks that were all right there. And I think the thing that we've lost over the last 40 years in the agricultural industry is that direct connection between farming and the local community. And I think that the ability and where we have these issues of food insecurity, when we can redirect local agriculture to help families in need that bolsters the local agriculture economy, it helps the farmers, they've got to now a different marketplace to sell and to process their food through. Um, and I think it's, it's an actual opportunity for us to reinforce the local cycle of , of growing and understanding, you know , how products are processed, how they're manufactured, how they can get out to the community. And I think it can lead to better health. You've got, you know, more local agriculture, more local milk , um, the gets on the place of people at risk , um, getting, you know, away from the package products, getting away from those things that, that have less nutritional value. I think it's a, it's a real opportunity for us and something. I hope that we don't miss.

Phil:

And to your point, and I agree with you, it's not limited to people who are at risk , um , for the first time , um, you know, people went to supermarkets and they couldn't find products and so on. So those cracks were revealed to them. And now I think that all consumers are much more interested in and trying to find out more about , um, how our entire agriculture system from farm to fork , uh, which I agree with you. I think that everybody benefits from that. Uh, so John, what's up next for Vanguard on the farm?

John:

Yeah. So for us, I mean, what we've done is we've spent the last seven years really figuring out how to get food waste, recycling, to function, and we've, we've built a pretty complex vertically integrated , uh, process of getting food, whether it's packaged or unpackaged contaminated or uncontaminated the stuff that's not usable, the Southern can't be given back to the community and get that into a place where it can make renewable. Um, so our goal is now to roll that out across the U S uh, we're working in, I think , nine different States right now , um , trying to get that organic stream, the manure from the cows, the food waste , um , that would otherwise go into landfills or incinerators, which is just again, real opportunity loss, but that nutrition can actually get put back into the soil as, as low-carbon fertilizer at the end of our process. And we can extract the methane from it, which is, which is renewable natural gas. Um, we think it's a huge win for the community. And again, an opportunity that we don't want to lose , uh, and, and supporting farmers, being family for us, that's, that's just a second nature. And something that , that goes hand in hand, you know, we see a lot of food waste. We know what's recyclable. We know what can be given back , uh , either for animal feed or for , for human consumption. Um, there is , you know, the, the sad, but , but good news is , is there is an enormous amount of food waste in the United States , uh, by most estimates, 30% of all manufacturing grown food ends up in a landfill or an incinerator. Um, that's gotta stop , uh, and , and we're excited and delighted to be able to get back on the farm with that nutrient get back on farm with that , uh, an extract that energy. Um, it's, it's a really exciting time for us.

Phil:

Same question. What's a , what's next for dairy farmers of America?

David:

Well, I think as it relates to the work with Vanguard, you know, it's , it's really about , um , collaborating towards shared value and, and , and , and working with them on projects, on dairy farms and dairy farms that can range from all sizes across the country , um, for medium sized farms to large farms and , and , and , and demonstrating , uh, continuing to demonstrate how dairy farms can be part of environmental solutions for our country. You know , when you can put a Vanguard anaerobic digester system on a dairy farm, it reduces the , the entire reduces the methane emissions from that dairy farm to help with our greenhouse gas emissions. You know, it's keeping food out of landfills and other waste streams. It's creating economic value for the farmers and the other businesses involved. And when you have strong, viable farms across rural America, you know, we know that communities win as well. And just, just the , the ties that they build and the connections they make in rural America. So, so for us, it's continuing to look for those opportunities where we can work with , with strong, great partners like Vanguard and DFA members, and seeing where we can continue to build that infrastructure. That's where dairy farmers can, can survive and thrive. They can continue to be great stewards of the environment, and , and until I strong roles in their community while providing food and high quality nutrition for consumers.

Phil:

Well, David, John, thank you both for joining us today on Farm Food Facts and keep up the great work.

David:

Thank you.

John:

Thanks Phil. Appreciate it.

Phil:

US Farmers and Ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2020 honor. The harvest form or movement sponsors, United soybean board and national pork board. Our presenting sponsors, Wells Fargo and Cargil. Our gold sponsors, Bayer, Dairy West, Nebraska soybean board, McDonald's, Nutrien and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. Our bronze sponsors, Purina and Ernst & Young, our youth sponsor Ruan and our donor sponsor Tyson. For more on all things, food and agriculture. Please visit [email protected] Also be sure to look out for us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers and on Twitter at USFRA until next time.