A group of cheesemakers and cheesemongers from Virginia and West Virginia is organizing a week-long fundraising effort to support the social justice movement rising across in the country. Drawing inspiration from Bakers Against Racism, the worldwide virtual bake sale that started in D.C. and collectively raised more than $1.85 million, members of the Virginia Cheese Guild are pledging to donate a portion of their sales from July 12 through July 18 to support Black farmers and other anti-racist causes of their choice.
“We have a major racial justice issue in this country, one that we all must pitch in and deal with before it gets worse,” says Kat Feete, a cheesemaker at Meadow Creek Dairy in southwestern Virginia. “We live in a rural community, so spreading the word and donating is our best option [for] showing our support for this necessary change.”
According to research Megan Horst conducted at Portland State University, from 2012 to 2014 white people in America generated 98 percent of all farm-related income from land ownership and 97 percent of the income that comes from operating farms. From 1920 to 2012, the percentage Black owner-operators dropped from 14 percent to 1.5 percent. Structural racism against Black farmers has manifested in the form of discriminatory laws, a lack of labor protections, and unequal funding.
In Virginia, each cheesemaker and monger has come up with their own giveback. Meadow Creek will donate 20 percent of sales of its newest cheese, an extra-aged Appalachian, to F.A.R.M.S., a nonprofit dedicated to helping Black farmers keep their land. The Appalachian cheese is made with the milk of Jersey cows that roam the mountainous region. It debuts in Meadow Creek’s online store next week.
Cheesemaker Molly Kroiz, an eighth-generation farmer at George’s Mill in Loudoun County, says supporting the Black farming community feels especially important right now. The farm will donate a quarter of its sales at the Takoma Park Farmers Market to the Southeast African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON), an organization that supports Black farmers in the South. Sara Adduci, cheesemonger at Belmont Butchery in Richmond, will give SAAFON 100 percent of proceeds from sales of its Jùscht, a tender, rich, raw cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland.
Ballerino Creamery in Staunton will donate proceeds from sales of its Starfall cheese to Soulfire Farm, a which has an anti-racist mission and claims a BIPOC (Black, indigenous, or other people of color) ownership group. Twenty Paces, a four-person, raw-milk dairy and creamery in Charlottesville, will donate 25 percent of sales of its Round Bale cheese to Sylvanaqua Farms, a BIPOC-owned farm in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Caromont Farm cheesemaker Gail Hobbs-Page, who first came up with the idea for the fundraiser several weeks ago, pledges 5 percent of next week’s total sales to the Randolph Farm at Virginia State University, a historically black, land-grant university in Petersburg, just south of Richmond. She hopes the effort won’t end there.
“This is just the beginning of a sustained initiative to support people of color in our industry,” Hobbs-Page says. She points out she doesn’t know of a single Black cheesemaker in America with ownership stake in a creamery, and she’s been a fixture on the artisanal cheese scene since 2007.
Hobbs-Page is hoping this fundraiser will shine a light on the issue and encourage people within the industry to create more opportunities for Black cheesemakers, cheesemongers, and dairy farmers. She also plans to work with VSU to provide education and mentoring, including learning days on the farm for BIPOC students who are interested in tending to animals and cheesemaking.
This grassroots approach relies on each participant to identify their own way to make a meaningful contribution toward identifying and dismantling systemic racism. To that end, queer-owned Clover Top Creamery in Charlottesville will take a different approach: For the week of the fundraiser, cheesemaker Madison Horn will use her platform on social media to highlight Black-owned businesses in her area. Horn says by dedicating her accounts to representing others, she can make an impact “without centering myself and without being performative.”
At the end of the week, Clover Top will make a donation to The Okra Project, which funds meals for the Black trans community, regardless of the week’s sales.
The Virginia Cheese Guild is hosting a Facebook event page where it will provide updates and information about the participating cheesemakers and mongers throughout the week. Other listed participants include Main Street Farmstead(Stuarts Draft); Culpepper Cheese Co., and Shepherd’s Whey Creamery (Martinsburg, West Virginia, Leesburg Farmers Market on Saturday, Dupont Circle Farmers Market on Sunday)