Friday, September 04, 2020

State programs connect farmers and food banks as USDA food-box efforts run into trouble

Farmers and ranchers in many states are working to fill a mutual need during the pandemic. Farmers across the country were left without buyers as the pandemic shut down restaurants. And as millions of Americans lost their jobs, the need for food banks skyrocketed. So, more than a dozen states have created or expanded programs that pay farmers to send surplus produce to food banks, Alex Brown reports for Stateline.

"Several other states have created or expanded online marketplaces for their farmers and ranchers as many transition to direct-to-customer sales," Brown reports. "The programs are a boon as 17 million Americans face food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, according to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization."

Many dairy farmers, who were told by overwhelmed processors to dump their milk, donated it instead to food banks, Brown reports. The effort helps the farmers as well as the food banks. California dairy farmers struggled with depression when they were told to dump their milk. "It's a mind-numbing event. Our suicide hotline was tapped 86 times in 48 hours," said Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairies, a trade group that represents more than 900 farms in California.

The federal government has also made efforts to connect farmers and food banks. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture's $3 billion program, which delivered 50 million food boxes to food banks and similar clients by the end of July, "has been plagued by controversial contracts, disparities in distribution and difficulties in the supply chain, according to news reports as the program rolled out. The department did not respond to questions," Brown reports.

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