COLUMBUS, Wis. – Dairy producers across the state are doing amazing things during the current crisis to ensure milk is not wasted and the hungry are fed.
    Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus, a dairy farm that bottles its own milk and makes ice cream, is making sure its customers who have fallen on hard times never go without milk. The creamery has placed a refrigerator outside its retail store filled with fresh, cold milk that is free for the taking.

    “The Kindness Cooler, as we call it, serves our neighbors, friends and people in the community who are laid off from work, lost their jobs, have kids at home, etc.,” said James Baerwolf, one of the creamery’s owners. “This is an easy way for them to have access to milk.”
    Sassy Cow regularly works with food pantries and groups in the community, but the Kindness Cooler hits a little closer to home. The response to the cooler has been incredible with an average of 150-200 gallons of milk flying off its shelves daily. Some days have topped 300 gallons.
    “We primarily give away 2% milk as that covers the most common needs,” James said. “Chocolate milk is the hardest to keep stocked so we have to divvy that up to offer some variation.”
    Available 24/7, the fridge is restocked multiple times per day, and on the weekend, replenishing milk is a full-time job. The Kindness Cooler opened to the public March 24 and will continue until the end of the stay-at-home order.
    The idea for the cooler was that of James’ three daughters, Taylor, 18, Faith, 16, and Anika, 14.
    “We were talking about the coronavirus and how crazy it is, and wondered what we could do to help,” Taylor said. “Now, we’re using what we have to help others.”
    Faith agreed.
    “With schools and coffee shops shut down, we had extra milk, and we didn’t want it to go to waste,” Faith said.
    Taylor attends Fox Valley Technical College and is studying agricultural business and animal science. Like her sisters, she is home from school and able to help more at the farm and creamery.
    “It’s been a big plus for me in that I got my calf feeders back – morning and night,” James said.
    Owned and operated by James and his brother, Robert Baerwolf, and their families, Sassy Cow Creamery is home to two herds, milking 600 cows at their traditional dairy and 200 cows at their organic dairy. Milk is run five days a week at Sassy Cow Creamery, and lately, they always do a little extra for the cooler.
“Like everybody in the dairy industry, things were kind of normal for us one week, and the next week, everything turned upside down,” James said. “We wanted to find the best way to be helpful with all the upheaval, and this is one thing we can do.”
    The Sassy Cow store has remained open throughout the pandemic, and traffic has increased times two.
    “We’ve never sold this much milk before, and ice cream takeout sales have doubled,” James said. “Consumers are scared to go to the grocery store or a busy area and are willing to pay more for things like eggs, cottage cheese, cheese curds and meat if it means they don’t have to be around a lot of people.”
    However, the creamery’s new Farmhouse Kitchen, featuring classic and signature grilled cheese sandwiches, has not really had a chance yet to get off the ground.
    “We’re doing takeout, but we lost a big chunk of our restaurant and coffee house business because of the virus,” James said. “State restrictions affect how we operate, and we see it firsthand on both ends – at our farm and at our store.”  
    The cooler has sparked interest from other members of the community looking to make a difference, and people have been donating money to put towards stocking the fridge with milk.
    “Having people fund this cooler was never our intention,” James said. “But people want to help, and we appreciate that. The Kindness Cooler has given them that opportunity.”
    For dairy farmer Monica Schwittay, serving her fellow neighbor is part of everyday life. Schwittay’s charitable heart has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic as she and other Marinette County dairy farmers and fellow community members established a milk fund to help feed families in need.
    Local dairy farmers teamed together and donated 80 gallons of milk to the Peshtigo and Crivitz food pantries April 15. An initiative started by Jason Malke at Straight Flush Sewer and dairy farmer Laura Finger, the idea soon took off as other dairies expressed interest to get on board and help. Finger Family Farms of Peshtigo, Drees Dairy Farm of Peshtigo, Schwittay Farms of Peshtigo, Van De Walle Farms of Crivitz, Nor Farms of Peshtigo, Kaufman Farms of Crivitz, Carviou Dairy of Marinette and Jason Malke generously donated.
    “We tried to stay anonymous,” Schwittay said. “Nobody in the group wanted to take credit for anything, but at the same time, we want to build more awareness for helping those in need. We just want others to see the need that we see. This includes helping to stimulate the dairy industry. We need to survive, too.”
    Schwittay and her husband, Jeremy, operate two farms in Peshtigo – Schwittay Farms where they milk over 300 cows with Jeremy’s brother, Jason, and Heifer Solutions, a custom heifer raising operation. The couple has been contributing to food pantries for years, donating milk, butter, cheese and meat.
    “Supporting our local food pantry has always been near and dear to our hearts,” Schwittay said.
    Going forward, Marinette County farmers will be serving four food pantries in Marinette County – Bread by the Bay in Oconto, Peshtigo Food Pantry, Crivitz Food Pantry and Pastor Fred’s Pantry in Amberg. The Peshtigo pantry feeds 30 families twice a month; Crivitz feeds 50 families twice a month; Oconto feeds 80 families twice a month; and Amberg feeds 160 families twice a month.
    “Our goal is to feed all those families two times a month in both May and June,” Schwittay said. “Therefore, we are hoping to donate 640 gallons of milk in May. Fluid milk is always a much-needed item at food pantries. Contrary to what many might think, they don’t always have milk. Butter is another hot commodity that pantries rarely see, and we’re considering doing a donation of butter for the month of June.”
    The pantries are partners with several grocers that are supplying milk directly to the milk fund. These include Lee’s Family Foods in Peshtigo, Witt’s Piggly Wiggly in Crivitz and Sal’s Foods in Wausaukee.
    “Sal Sarvello, owner of Sal’s Foods, said he would sell the milk at cost,” Schwittay said. “And due to his commitment to the community, he was willing to cover half of that cost. With just two locations, he’s not a big grocer so I thought that was rather gracious.”
    Word has spread fast, and many people from the community are pitching in to donate, handing checks directly to grocers to put towards the milk fund.
    “It doesn’t matter who you are – a business owner, dairy farmer or a consumer who lives in town – we just want everybody to help with the movement of helping others,” Schwittay said. “It’s about giving back, and we need to give back to our community. It truly takes a village.”
    Anyone interested in donating to the milk fund or helping in some manner is encouraged to contact Monica Schwittay, Laura Finger or Jason Malke.