This article is from the LA Times, and the farms featured are on a different scale than our New England farms, but the concept it there – more intentional connections between food banks and farms.
Here on the seacoast, we’ve got some relationships building between food banks and farmers’ markets, enabling consumers to purchase fresh foods and farmers to donate what they don’t sell and can’t take home. Food pantries love fresh foods – we’ve got a whole list of food banks that accept donations of fresh foods – and farmers and gardeners can (and often do) give generously. What I love most about this model is that the food banks have found a way to ensure that giving doesn’t financially hurt the farmer. They’re not making any money, but they are able to take the time and resources to make sure the food isn’t waste, rather than it being more cost efficient to let it rot. A very innovative solution.
“The common wisdom in food banks for many years was that we need to give people adequate calories,” she said. “Now we know that we also need to give people healthy food.”
All of these forces combined mean that food banks are becoming assertive shoppers. This year, Farm to Family, a program of the California Assn. of Food Banks, will secure 87 million pounds of seasonal produce, some donated but most of it purchased for pennies on the dollar, for 44 food banks all over California, said Ron Clark, the association’s food sourcing and logistics manager.
“Ten years ago, food banks were much more passive,” said Michael Flood, who runs the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, one of the largest food banks in the country. They took what they could get — packaged food that might have been supermarket rejects or new products that failed.
Today, 20% of the L.A. bank’s food is produce — by far the largest single category, Flood said.
Farmers have long donated food to their local food banks or have allowed people to glean leftovers from their fields. But in 2005, the California Assn. of Food Banks got involved, hiring one solicitor who procured 10 million pounds of food. In 2008, three solicitors got 64 million pounds of produce. A fourth solicitor begins work in January.
Sharp, whose family has long farmed in the Imperial Valley, is a deal maker in a Dodge pickup and a straw cowboy hat, seeking farmers in the Imperial and Coachella valleys who are willing to harvest or pack crops they can’t otherwise sell. They get paid just enough to get the cabbage or garlic or melons into bins.