CHAMPAIGN — The farm shop at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is closed, but its goats have been busy.
The Champaign creamery has been producing 800 6-ounce containers a week of fresh goat cheese for a U.S. Department of Agriculture program aimed to help farmers and food banks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The USDA has awarded $1.2 billion in contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, where farmers produce food that distributors package in boxes that are sent to food banks, schools, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and community centers.
“This is government working,” said Leslie Cooperband, co-owner of Prairie Fruits.
Prairie Fruits is sending its goat cheese to Gourmet Gorilla, which is distributing food boxes in the Midwest.
“During normal times, we provide meals to about 300 schools in northern Illinois and Wisconsin, so we basically were able to position ourselves to execute on the contract,” said Danielle Hrzic, the CEO of Gourmet Gorilla.
Her company puts together five different types of boxes, including one with protein, one with produce and one with dairy. Prairie Fruits’ cheese will go in the dairy box.
The current program continues through June 30 and may be extended, though perhaps at a lower volume.
“It’s been quite a ride with this program,” Hrzic said. “It’s going well, but very quick.”
The financial impact for Prairie Fruits has been “huge, huge, huge, huge,” Cooperband said. “We launched an online store, so that helped, and the farmers’ market has been helping, but restaurants and other food services have been shut down and are now just starting to trickle in,” she said.