Farmers donate fruits, vegetables in larger quantities
By Steve Adler
Employees at Jim Durst’s organic farm in Esparto harvest 30 bins of butternut squash to be donated to the Sacramento Food Bank.
Jim Durst has been donating food for two decades and encourages other farmers to do the same.
In a field in western Yolo County, farmer Jim Durst and his crew worked their way through a field of butternut squash. The employees packed 15 bins of the squash—none of it for sale. Instead, Durst donated the squash to needy families through the Sacramento Food Bank.
Durst has been donating food for 20 years, and has helped to found a new donation program in Yolo County. It's one example of efforts under way to provide fresh produce to food banks around California.
The California Association of Food Banks operates a statewide program called Farm to Family, which has been around for a decade now. It gives growers and shippers a way to provide fresh produce to food banks and people in need.
The program has grown during the years and is a win-win situation for those who make donations, as well as the otherwise underserved recipients, said Karen DeWitt, who directs the Farm to Family program.
"Sadly, growers often receive national media attention only when a negative event occurs. We are committed to helping the general public develop a better understanding of the role that generous growers play in feeding people in need in our country," DeWitt said.
Statewide, there are 41 food banks that provide food to about 5,000 non-profit agencies. These agencies, in turn, distribute food directly to 2 million hungry people.
The food bank association said the Farm to Family program provided 120 million pounds of fresh produce to food banks last year, and expects to provide 124 million pounds in 2012.
There are two basic ways for farmers to participate in the Farm to Family program. Many growers donate surplus commodities directly; others choose to make donations of money. With either method, there may be tax credit benefits and participants are advised to check with their tax advisors.
Assembly Bill 152, which was sponsored by the California Association of Food Banks, took effect on Jan. 1 of this year. The bill created a state tax credit for 10 percent of the inventory costs of fresh fruits and vegetables that are donated to food banks.
Another direct benefit of the program, DeWitt said, is that it provides assistance to the local community first before any surplus is channeled into the statewide network.
"Growers can be assured that their gifts are providing for the needs of their workers, friends and neighbors," she said. "Product in excess of what the local community can accommodate is then made available to other food banks statewide."
The Yolo County program, spearheaded by Durst and fellow farmer Tom Muller, has been named "Shared Harvest." Working closely with the Food Bank of Yolo County, participating farmers and ranchers take an active role in supporting the food bank either through donations of commodities or money.
"Through Shared Harvest, producers would commit an acre, a row or some other quantity of production that fits their operation, and annually dedicate the gross income from that production to the food bank," Durst said. "This would become a line item in our budgets, just like fuel or rent."
Durst and Muller, who are both on the board of directors of the Food Bank of Yolo County, said the benefits of the program include:
- It provides a first line of defense for those who need food in the area.
- It enables the food bank to put more resources into distribution and spend less on fundraising.
- It would give the food bank financial stability, if it would not have to rely on public and private grants.
- Many of those who work on area farms are helped by the food bank.
- Farmers and ranchers would reap goodwill by demonstrating to urban neighbors that they care about addressing hunger.
"I know that most growers have really good hearts and they give to a lot of different things," Durst said. "This program is something that serves the public in general and a lot of times it serves the people who work on our farms, such as those who are seasonal and who are stretching to make ends meet. The food bank plays an important role in helping them."
Durst outlined hypothetical examples of how a grower could participate. If a processing tomato grower sets aside one acre of crop that produces 50 tons at $70 a ton, the donation would be $3,500. Similarly, an almond grower who produces 2,500 pounds of nuts on an acre could donate $5,000 based on $2 per pound.
Durst emphasized that the final decision on how much to donate rests with each individual.
He said his crew would make another pass through the harvested squash field this week, which he expected to yield another 15 bins of squash to be donated.
"After first going through the field to harvest the butternut for fresh market, there is a lot left in the field that for some reason doesn't make retail pack. So we go through again and harvest them for the food bank," Durst said.
"They are very edible, they are organic; there is nothing wrong with them. The retail pack is a certain size and shape and if the squash has a little too big a bulb on the end or something, we don't want to just leave them in the field. It costs us money to go through and pick them up, but it is minimal compared to the amount of good that it provides," he said.
Interested farmers may find more information by contacting the California Association of Food Banks at 510-272-4435 or www.cafoodbanks.org. In Yolo County, interested growers may contact the Food Bank of Yolo County at 530-668-0690 or www.foodbankyc.org.
(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.