Trade associate member update

– Florida Association of Food Banks –

Grant brings fresh produce to the struggling families while covering growers’ costs

Feeding South Florida's mobile pantries are stocked with produce provided by FAFB Farmers Feeding Florida.

– The Florida Association of Food Banks, an FFVA trade associate member, is making great progress in its goal of feeding the hungry thanks in part to a Specialty Crop Block Grant issued in collaboration with the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation.

The grant supports the association’s Farmers Feeding Florida initiative to provide wholesome but unmarketable produce to those who need it most. And according to Sonia Tighe, the foundation’s director, “The results have been really amazing. And it benefits several of our growers.”

Specifically, the grant funds a project that provides grower/packer incentives to cover  the packing costs of donated food. Product sometimes is not marketable because of appearance, size or the economics of oversupply in the market.

Cucumbers donated by FAFB Farmers Feeding Florida to Treasure Coast Food Bank.

The Florida Association of Food Banks and its member food banks are partners of Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization. The food banks serve all 67 Florida counties through collaboration with more than 2,500 faith-based and community organizations such as pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.  FAFB launched Farmers Feeding Florida as a way to partner with grower/packers to increase donations of fresh produce for those who are struggling to provide enough nutritious food for their families. “Three and a half million Floridians, including more than 1 million children are food insecure – unsure about their next meal. Our state produces an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that can help feed our neighbors in need,” said Rebecca Brislain, who served as FAFB executive director until September. “It seemed like a perfect fit.” Farmers Feeding Florida has been endorsed by commodity groups and is supported by the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Florida Legislature and grants from private organizations.

Agape Food Bank mobile pantry distribution in Zolfo Springs (sponsored by Mosaic, produce provided by FAFB Farmers Feeding Florida.)

In its application for the funds, FAFB stated that the grant help provide almost 2 million pounds of produce, roughly 50 truckloads. “Florida growers and packers are extremely generous people and have committed to our mission of a hunger-free Florida,” said Gail Starratt, FAFB’s regional food sourcer. “If we can help offset some of their out-of-pocket costs, we can recover millions of pounds of wholesome fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Six months after implementing the program, FAFB reported strong results in a semi-annual report. Between January and June, FAFB sourced and distributed 625,027 pounds of produce using the grant funds. This represented a 684 percent increase over the previous reporting period. “Since the beginning of the contract period to date, a total of 2,204,750 pounds have been sourced using the Specialty Crop Block Grant funds, well over the projected amount of 1.9 million,” said Starratt. The grant provides funding for two years.

Above photo is an example of the variety of produce that FFF receives from Florida farmers.

Starratt, at the time the semi-annual report was issued, was working with 38 growers statewide. The variety of commodities had increased to 25 different fruits and vegetables including snow peas, celery, eggplant, cauliflower and asparagus, which hadn’t been distributed in the past. “We are looking to add additional commodities to our mix so we can provide even more variety to families,” Starratt said.

Brislain supervises FFF staff and determines priorities in fulfilling the grant requirements. She notes that the incentive program, made possible by the grant, will have longtime impact in addition to the main goal of providing healthy fresh food to their neighbors in need.  “As the word gets out, we anticipate it will result in additional private grants to fund the grower incentive program and encouragement for even more growers to participate in the program,” she said. “And, studies have shown that kids who are introduced to fresh vegetables early in life are more likely to continue eating healthy as they get older. That sounds like a win for everyone.”

The Florida Association of Food Banks (FAFB) is a 501(c)(3) organization committed to ending hunger in Florida and is affiliated with Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization. FAFB members distributed more than 199 million pounds of food last year through a network of 2,500 community- and faith-based organizations in all 67 Florida counties. Learn more about the Florida Association of Food Banks and Farmers Feeding Florida at www.HungerFreeFlorida.org.  FAFB may also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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