By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Dec. 17 — Four years ago during a difficult time in the dairy industry, Rockingham Cooperative partnered with local food pantries, churches and businesses to create the Cheese Ministry. The idea was to generate funding to support the production of cheese that would then be distributed to those most in need. The program created a new market for farmers, while also helping stock the shelves of local food banks.
Since 2018, the Cheese Ministry has delivered more than $1 million of high-quality dairy products to dozens of communities across Virginia. The initial program was so successful, it soon lead to the formation of the Beef Ministry and Pork for the Pantry operating under the same concept through the umbrella organization known as The Farm Ministry.
On Tuesday, The Farm Ministry made its inaugural donation in Page County after partnering with Page Cooperative Farm Bureau and Marlow Ford to provide 150 pounds of fresh, local, USDA-inspected, ground hamburger and 450 pounds of locally-produced, high-quality mozzarella cheese. Rockingham Co-Op provided the cheese, while Marlow Ford and Page Co-Op partnered to purchase the hamburger from Burner’s Beef.
“This is a product from the county, raised in the county, and it’s helping people in the county,” said Jared Burner, owner of Burner’s Beef and a member of both the Page and Rockingham Co-Ops. “That’s the way the world is going…more local products and better products.”
While most of the beef was purchased, Burner also donated a portion of Tuesday’s delivery.
“We want to do what we can to help the community. It’s really a win-win-win…a win for the farmer, a win for Page One, and a win for the community as a whole,” the longtime beef farmer said. “We believe we have a superior product, and we want people to know that good things grow in Page County.”
On the day following The Farm Ministry donation, Page One was expecting to receive 150 turkeys from a Leesburg food pantry. Lois Shaffer, the director of Page One, said the food donations are coming at the right time as donations are down and demand is up.
“It’s wonderful,” Shaffer said as the packages of beef and cheese were being delivered last Friday. “With rising prices, we haven’t received as much food.” She noted that donations across the board have been “way down” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This will make a special Christmas for a few people in Page County,” Shaffer said.
The Page One Food Bank provides meals for more than 500 individuals each month, including:
- 325 people served each month at the Luray site;
- 110 served monthly at the Shenandoah site;
- 96 served through outreach programs for seniors.
“We are thrilled to partner with Page Cooperative and Marlow Ford this holiday season to expand The Cheese Ministry and Beef Ministry into Page County,” said Adam Ford, Rockingham Cooperative’s Marketing Manager and Farm Ministry volunteer. “Both of these programs have tremendous potential to alleviate a great burden faced by families and individuals that have fallen on hard times during these winter months. We appreciate Page One for serving as our catalyst to distribute these fresh products across the Page Valley communities.”
The Beef and Cheese Ministries are programs operating under The Farm Ministry, whose mission is to connect agricultural producers with those less fortunate in the communities they live in. The Farm Ministry is a mission endorsed by Rockingham Cooperative’s senior leadership and board of directors.
“This is new for us as first-time participants,” said Darrell Hulver, manager of the Page Co-Op for the past 33 years. “We’ve always had a good relationship with Rockingham Co-Op. Things like this helps the market and everybody in the circle.”