KANSAS CITY, KAN. – Leaders and decision-makers from the dairy industry and other fields met with numerous food banks from June 22-24 to work on solutions to food insecurity that involve dairy.

Organized by Feeding America, Dairy Farmers of America and the Innovation Center for US Dairy, the Dairy Nourishes America Midwest Symposium featured ideas and business models that would get more dairy products to people who need them.

Representatives from 32 food banks within the Feeding America network attended the conference, which was hosted by DFA, as did people from dairy processing organizations, refrigeration companies, the National Milk Producers Federation, the US Department of Agriculture and more.

Per Feeding America, its data shows than on average a person visiting a food bank for assistance gets less than a gallon of milk per year, and it is one of the most requested products at food banks.

Feeding America’s numbers revealed that 664 million pounds of dairy was distributed in 2021. Barb O’Brien, chief executive officer and president of Dairy Management Inc. and the Innovation Center for US Dairy, shared at the symposium that the Innovation Center’s food security taskforce would like to see that number reach 1 billion pounds annually by 2025.

“It’s ambitious but achievable,” O’Brien said. “If we work together, we can address those gaps and opportunities like transportation, cold storage and other infrastructure challenges that we know exist. No child or individual within one of the most food-secure nations in the world should go hungry or lack access to the affordable, unmatched nutrition that dairy provides.”

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack highlighted the USDA’s $39 million in grant money that supported low-income and underserved populations, as well as the $400 million Dairy Donation Program that partners companies with food banks to make more donations possible and lessen food waste.

“I look forward to hearing more ideas about how we can work together to make certain that no American goes to bed malnourished,” Vilsack said.

Feeding America’s senior director of dairy product resourcing, Jerod Matthews, said a new business model is needed that involves more than donations.

“Feeding America is looking for innovative ways to access food donations from across the supply chain,” Matthews said. “As companies increase efficiencies, less product remains available for donation. We need strong public/private partnerships in order to continue providing food assistance to the tens of millions of people turning to the charitable food sector for help.”