Donor, dairy coop team to help Northampton Survival Center

The Daily Hampshire Gazette
Dan Crowley
Friday, March 29, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — Hey powder, take a powder.

Thanks to an anonymous grant and new partnership with local dairy farmers, the Northampton Survival Center’s emergency food program is now providing fresh milk daily for the nearly 5,000 low-income residents it serves in Hampshire County.

For most of its 32-year history, the center relied heavily on powdered milk for its main dairy offering, a staple that often stays on shelves because it is undesirable to many families.

“It was clear to everybody, including our volunteers, that anything was better than powdered milk,” said Heidi Nortonsmith, the center’s executive director.

Nortonsmith would know. Her own childhood experience with powdered milk helped fuel her desire to bring change to the center’s dairy selection. She recalled how her father, as a cost-savings measure, tried to persuade her and three siblings to drink milk concocted from powder as children, albeit unsuccessfully.

“I wouldn’t drink it then,” she said. “I had that dislike for it myself and could sympathize with others.”

Nortonsmith said the center had been looking for ways to work with local dairy farmers to provide a more “appealing, nutritious and sustainable” alternative to powdered milk and Parmalat, another dairy product that has been available at the center occasionally.

For a long time, the center has budgeted little for dairy, largely a reflection of the lack of client interest in powdered milk, Nortonsmith said. The center has offered fresh dairy sporadically, most recently through its Kids’ Summer Food Program, now in its 15th year.

Like an earlier local produce initiative, it took an anonymous family foundation grant of $25,000 per year for the next three years — as well as collaboration with the nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, also known as CISA, to launch the initiative.

CISA recently awarded the Northampton Survival Center a “Local Hero” designation.

Beginning this month, Our Family Farms of Massachusetts, the dairy co-operative based in Greenfield, began supplying approximately 225 half-gallons of milk that now go to dozens of low-income families daily, all year long.

On Friday, the dairy co-op was seen making one of its weekly deliveries at the center at 265 Prospect St. in Northampton as clients mingled in the food pantry picking up goods.

“People are very happy to see that there’s fresh milk and very happy to have it here,” Nortonsmith said.

Nortonsmith said Our Family Farms has given the survival center an excellent price on the milk and the cooperative is making deliveries to its two food pantries, in Northampton and Goshen, when they are open.

“We’re very happy to be working with them,” said Angie Facey of Bree-Z-Knoll Farm in Leyden, president of the cooperative. “Every little bit helps for us because all of our profits go back to our farmers.”

Founded in 1997, Our Family Farms is made up of five dairies, primarily in Franklin County. The group has supplied fresh milk to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Serving the Northampton Survival Center is an extension of that relationship, said Connie Clarke, operations manager at Our Family Farms.

“These farmers feel very strongly that they are part of the community,” Clarke said.

Other partners

Nortonsmith said the fresh dairy offering and new relationship with Our Family Farms will complement other partnerships it has with local farms and growers who provide the center with breads made with local grains, fresh produce and eggs from backyard chicken farms, for example.

As for the anonymous grant, she said the center has an agreement with the donors to analyze the new dairy program and fine-tune it if necessary beyond the first three years — with the likelihood of continued funding.

The Northampton Survival Center has been serving a growing number of low-income families in recent years from 15 cities and towns in Hampshire County. From its two locations, it provides 2,500 pounds of food daily, or about 700,000 pounds of food each year, with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

“It’s an effect of the still-difficult economy and the drying up of people’s safety nets,” said Nortonsmith, speaking of the nearly 5,000 people who rely on the center.

To learn more about the center, including how to volunteer or donate, visit

Dan Crowley can be reached at