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Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski said the state is making $15 million available in funds to fight food insecurity during the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Romanski shared details on the funds during the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's "Dairy Signal" episode on June 10. He said the money will go directly to food pantries and ag producers across the state, both of whom are struggling during this time because of a lack of funding available to purchase products and a drop in demand from dairy buyers.

Romanski said the program will target food banks, helping them purchase food from farmers who have lost their regular buyers due to restaurant and school closures. Those funds will also address delivery and storage issues, providing extra refrigeration equipment and investing in improved delivery and pick-up systems.

The program will invest in "adaptations that ease their processing to a smoother transition, so they can provide food to a growing number of those who are food insecure," Romanski said.

Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, said his organization identified 250 food banks interested in participating, including Feeding Wisconsin, who Vincent said is the largest food bank in the state. Additionally, there have been millions of dollars in donations pouring in - Vincent added that Dane County donated $3 million towards food insecurity. He said it was a "great marriage."

"All of a sudden, we got hundreds more people out there working through this network to get them some food, get them dairy, and get it to the people that absolutely need it," Vincent said. "It snowballed from there."

The WDATCP and DFW also partnered with the Hunger Task Force, who put $1 million towards purchasing product from Wisconsin farmers so that product could be moved. Vincent also said they are working with the FoodSourceUSA, an online exchange program that matches producers with buyers.

Vincent said Molly Jahn, whose research group created FoodSourceUSA, has the Wisconsin National Guard ready to move product if delivery needs can't be met by the buyer or seller. All of these programs have helped move nearly 15 million pounds of dairy products since April, Vincent said.

Vincent explained that farmers are facing drops in demand, which will lead to less income and an inability to continue producing, because farmers don't have infinite storage for milk and other products they can't sell. But things are starting to pick back up now that many of the nation's restaurants are in various stages of reopening. 

"The networks created through this (initiative) will have a long-lasting impact on hunger in Wisconsin," Vincent said. "We have to keep the cycle going."

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