Producer member profile – Special Seasonal Giving Feature

Thomas Produce is a major donor to Farmers Feeding Florida. From left: Ross Smith, John Thomas III, Isabel Claucherty and Jose Avila. All are with Thomas Produce except Claucherty, who works with the Feeding South Florida food bank.

All year — but especially during the holidays — FFVA members are generous supporters of efforts to help those in need. A special emphasis is placed on feeding Florida’s hungry families.

So far this holiday season, Rebecca Brislain, executive director of the Florida Association of Food Banks,  says the donations to her organization’s Farmers Feeding Florida program are impressive.

“Thomas Produce has been our largest donor this year. They donate a huge amount, and not just during the holidays,” she said. “One of the highly desirable items our food banks want is green beans. Thomas Produce actually reconfigured its packing line to recover the beans that weren’t quite pretty enough for retail and pack them in boxes for us. They also do that with cucumbers and peppers.”

Brislain said the company routinely packs mixed loads for them so the food banks and community organizations that give out the food have a better mix of product.

Bob Spencer of West Coast Tomato also continues to be a generous donor to the program. He was honored in 2012 for his efforts.

But West Coast Tomato and Thomas Produce aren’t the only community-minded companies among FFVA’s membership.

More than 20 FFVA producer members are supporters of Farmers Feeding Florida, including Dun-D Citrus. Brislain said that when Sarasota County bought citrus land for future use, it called the Society of St. Andrew, a gleaning organization, to take the existing fruit for the needy. The Society couldn’t handle the volume, so it contacted FAFB, which brought in Dun-D. For a very low price, Dun-D harvested the entire 120-plus acres, washed and packed the fruit, and sent it in 38 semi-trucks to food banks in every county in Florida.

“The beauty of that was the timing,” said Brislain. “Dun-D had a seasonal lull in packing, so crews were available and the packinghouse had time to do this. It was a win-win situation. They employed people and all the food banks got beautiful fresh Florida citrus to distribute,” she said.

Troyer Brothers potato operation donates regularly and generously to Farmers Feeding Florida.

Another major donor to FAFB is Troyer Brothers. “I know last fiscal year they gave 198,000 pounds of potatoes to us and about 87,000 pounds this year so far,” said Chris Robinson, FAFB’s food resourcing manager. “We anticipate getting a load every 10 days or so through the end of December. Then we go back to business as usual with him from there barring any unforeseen circumstances,” Robinson added.

FAFB distributes to food banks statewide, which then redistribute food to grassroots organizations such as churches and food pantries that provide food for the needy in their communities.

“We try to share our blessings. It’s part of what farming is all about.” – Paul Orsenigo, Orsenigo Farms and Grower’s Management

Other FFVA members donate on a more local level. Paul Orsenigo of Orsenigo Farms and Grower’s Management Inc. is very involved with several food banks in Palm Beach County.

“Generally we donate sweet corn and sometimes lettuce as well,” Orsenigo said. “It depends on the need and the availability of our product. We take it straight from the field. It’s the same product that we’re shipping – not waste or a deficient product. We also donate to schools if there’s a need or a fundraising function. We try to share our blessings. It’s part of what farming is all about.

Fresh Florida green beans on their way to food banks across the state.

“The only problem is distribution, but that’s improving,” Orsenigo added. “Lettuce and green beans, for example, need refrigeration. If they aren’t stored at the right temperature, by the time they get to a needy family, they’re not pretty. Fortunately, there’s now more cold storage in the distribution channels.”

Another example of farmers giving back is a partnership between R.C. Hatton and Hundley Farms. Paul Allen of R.C. Hatton and John Scott Hundley together donate green beans that go into more than 60,000 Thanksgiving dinners coordinated by a local church. They also donate other vegetables to serve another 1,000-plus people in neighboring counties.

Hundley says his company works with the Big Heart Brigade,  which feeds homeless people and veterans throughout much of the year. And Hundley Farms also partners with Florida Crystals Corp. to help with the New Hope Foundation in Pahokee, which helps underprivileged children.

Another generous South Florida FFVA member is Bedner Farms. Marie Bedner says the company recently held a canned food drive for Bill Brooks Food for Families.  “Then we found out our local food bank was short of turkeys, so we decided to offer a free pony ride and hay ride to anyone who dropped off a turkey,” she said. The Bedners also are collecting new, unwrapped toys for the Toys for Tots program. “We match everything – can for can and toy for toy — that our customers donate.” In addition to their farming operation, the Bedners operate the popular Bedners Market in Boynton Beach.

Additional efforts are more personal and private. Some growers keep a low profile and focus their giving on a one-to-one basis, sometimes to individuals and sometimes to organizations.

“I would venture to say that most growers have it in their hearts to give back to the community in some way,” Hundley said. “It’s a ‘get to give’ opportunity.

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