MOO Milk and Wayside
On February 18, The New York Times ran a story about how Maine’s Own Organic Milk, a collective of 10 Maine dairy farms that formed in early 2010, is struggling to stay viable selling its slow-pasteurized, organic milk. At the time, MOO Milk’s website was dominated by information on donating half gallons to Wayside Soup Kitchen, a Portland food rescue that distributes food to 63 pantries and soup kitchens throughout Cumberland County. Since the story’s publication, donations have doubled, and they came from places like Texas and Ohio.
"The interesting thing about The New York Times piece,” observes MOO Milk treasurer David Bright, “is I don’t think they actually talked about [the Wayside partnership]. So it was all people that read it in The New York Times, went to our web page and found the donation thing on their own." In early March, MOO Milk received a $64 check for a Wayside donation snail-mailed from France.
All that milk thrills Wayside food rescue program manager Don Morrison. In his landscape, milk is a luxury item—rarely donated and disproportionately expensive to buy—but Morrison now delivers the local, organic beverage to his client organizations a couple times a week. On a recent Friday morning, Morrison has 126 half-gallon cartons of MOO Milk to deliver. He decides that morning that his first stop will be at Amistad, a mental health peer recovery center. So he heads in Wayside’s truck from Oakhurst Dairy, where he picked up the milk, toward State Street. (Oakhurst distributes MOO Milk.)
As Morrison’s truck approaches Amistad, he dials the cell number of its kitchen and dining manager. “Hey, you bum, get out of bed,” Morrison says to James Letourneau’s voicemail. His voice has a Rick Moranis quality which quickly recedes from notice as his informed passion for his work comes to the fore. “It’s Don from Wayside. I’ve got some milk for you.”
Morrison pulls into Amistad’s parking lot a moment later and enters its kitchen, where a couple people are washing dishes. Many more are lingering in the adjacent dining room, dingy winter coats on, listening to light rock. Three men play pool at a table in the corner. And a few feet beyond them, Letourneau, curly hair gathered in a short ponytail at his nape, speaks with a few clients. His Browne Trading Company T-shirt says “fine caviar and fresh seafood” on it. He turns buffalo meat donations into the likes of bison ragout for the 80-100 clients his kitchen serves each weekday lunchtime.
“If we didn’t get this milk, we probably wouldn’t have milk for our clients, because it represents too significant a part of a very small budget,” says Letourneau. (MOO Milk costs about $4 per half-gallon.) “The benefit is having a healthy beverage option to offer, whereas otherwise I would only be able to offer a reconstituted sugar drink.” He takes 54 of Morrison's cartons, most to send home with clients to help them through the weekend. The milk comes thanks to a combination of the individual donations—more than $2,000 to date—and a $50,000 milk-buying grant from last fall.
Morrison departs next for India Street, to see if the substance abuse center Milestone needs any local, organic milk. Its employees picked some up at Wayside earlier in the week, Morrison says, “but I bet you they’re close to out.” Milestone too opts for 54 cartons. “People love it,” Morrison says of Wayside’s new means to consistently offer high-quality milk. “We do the four mobile food pantries, and there might be an occasion where, on that certain food day, we don’t have actually milk available. And people have almost come to expect it. They’re like, ‘Oh, there’s no milk? I was hoping.’”
Story by Kira Goldenberg