Farmers support local communities with food donations


Issue Date: August 5, 2009
Christine Souza

Morgan Woolf of Woolf Farming Co. in Huron coordinated production of vegetable crops grown specifically to be donated to local food distribution centers. So far, the farm's 15-acre "garden" has donated nearly a quarter-million pounds of peppers, corn and other crops.

As unemployment rates rise and more families turn to food banks for assistance, California farmers and agricultural businesses have stepped up to donate several million pounds of fresh produce and other products to help their neighbors in need put food on the table.

Woolf Farming Co. in Huron has donated more than 231,480 pounds of fresh produce to assist farmworker families living in the western San Joaquin Valley communities of Firebaugh, Mendota and Huron who have lost farm jobs due to natural and regulatory water shortages in those areas. Unemployment in these communities is as high as 40 percent.

Morgan Woolf, who manages community projects at his family's farm, says the farm set aside 15 acres to grow zucchini, corn, squash and peppers, which have been donated to local food distribution centers.

"Thankfully, our farming operation has been able to stay afloat, but I know that numerous others around the area have had to shut down," Woolf said. "Driving around this area it is amazing to see how many fields have gone fallow. I know this (water shortage) has greatly impacted the farmworkers and their families who live here."

He said the main reason the farm grew produce to be donated "is to help people and families who need food. We want them to stay here and be able to find farming jobs. The people who make up these communities are what keeps our operation rolling."

Woolf is partnering with about 12 different agricultural businesses to donate services such as labor, seed, fertilizer, cold storage and trucking. Other farmers are also contributing to the effort by donating tree fruit, beans and frozen vegetables.

Food banks and pantries are feeling an increased need for assistance as a result of a rising unemployment rate. Dana Wilkie, president and chief executive officer of the Community Food Bank in Fresno, said she is thankful for the generosity of growers like Woolf Farming.

"Certainly the need in the Central Valley is greater than the food bank can even meet. We've doubled our distribution in the last year," Wilkie said. "We provided food for over 1,600 people in our Mendota distribution center just yesterday. So many of our clients don't have access to grocery stores, so they wind up having to rely on the local convenience store or bodega and they generally don't carry produce. This has made all of the difference to our clients who are just struggling to get by."

Through the California Association of Food Banks Farm to Family program, growers and packers distributed more than 63 million pounds of donated fruits and vegetables last year. The Farm to Family program acquires fresh produce from growers and packers, and coordinates rapid delivery to food banks all across the state.

Growers of products other than fresh fruits and vegetables are finding that there are other ways to contribute as well.

In Southern California, an organic flower farmer is donating two acres of certified organic land that will be planted with produce. Kendall Farms in Fallbrook is working with Temecula Murrieta Rescue Mission and its partners on the farming project that will yield organic potatoes, corn, zucchini, tomatoes, red onions, peppers and watermelon. The project will serve homeless and impoverished families in the Inland Empire and Orange County.

"Kendall Farms is a member of this community and we are very aware of the daily struggle our friends and neighbors are having during this recession," said Troy Conner, general manager of Kendall Farms. "Providing healthy land capable of producing fresh food to help families get through these difficult times is something we are very proud and honored to do."

In addition to donating the acreage, Kendall Farms provided the techniques to prepare the land for farming, including tillage and fertilization of the soil, irrigation and consultation with commercial organic farmers. The Temecula Murrieta Rescue Mission, supported by private donations and volunteer labor, will help with the costs of irrigation, care and harvesting of the first crop.

To make it simpler for farmers to donate food that they have grown, U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., reintroduced the Good Samaritan Hunger Relief Tax Incentive Extension Act, Senate Bill 1313. Under current law, which expires at the end of 2009, only farmers and ranchers who use the accrual method of accounting may benefit from incentives for charitable donations of food.

"Primarily processors and retailers had benefited from the original legislation. This amendment is aimed at giving entities other than C corporations the same benefits C corporations have enjoyed for years," said Jim Bates, Fowler Packing Co. chief of financial operations, who chairs the operations committee for the Community Food Bank in Fresno.

"It has been my experience that farmers generally make the donation of food out of their desire to support their communities and the less fortunate, and any enhanced deduction was not the primary motivation of such a contribution," he said. "The legislation does make it easier for farmers to take such an enhanced deduction and will result in increased donations of food should the bill pass."

The new legislation would permanently allow farmers and ranchers to take advantage of tax deductions when they donate food they have grown, regardless of how they file their taxes. Food donations from all sizes of businesses can qualify for this type of donation. Lugar's bill increases the valuation to full market value of the donation and makes this provision a permanent part of the Internal Revenue Code.

The American Farm Bureau Federation sent letters of support for the bill to members of the Senate and House. Farm Bureau said it supports tax policy reform that encourages individuals and companies to do all they can to help people in need.

For more information about the California Association of Food Banks Farm to Family program, see www.cafarmtofamily.org.

Farmers can also donate through Feeding America, a national program that works with the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program. To learn more, go to www.cfbf.com.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.