LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the 2019 growing season in Kentucky kicks off, Feeding Kentucky is calling all Kentucky farmers to participate in the Farms to Food Banks program.

The successful Farms to Food Banks program, entering its ninth year, works to reduce food waste by rescuing cosmetically blemished produce and distributing it to Kentuckians at risk of hunger. It covers a farmer's cost of picking, packing and transporting produce from the field to a food bank.

"Over the past several years produce distribution to those in need has grown dramatically," said Michael Halligan, CEO for God's Pantry Food Bank. "There's nothing better than nutritious locally grown produce on a warm summer evening. The excitement we see when a hungry neighbor receives fresh Kentucky produce warms the heart!"

Last year God's Pantry Food Bank distributed 45,000 pounds of fresh local produce in Laurel County and over 1 million pounds throughout its 50-county service area through the program. Five Laurel County farmers participated in 2018.

"The Farms to Food Banks program is a great example of Kentucky's agricultural community at its finest," said Feeding Kentucky Programs Coordinator Sarah Vaughn. "Farmers tell us they hate to see anything go to waste. The program helps ensure farmers are able to donate rather than plow under their unmarketable produce. And the families we serve are always thrilled to receive great local produce."

Nutrition education is another important program component. Staff from the University of Kentucky will be leading 8-week-long "Cooking Socials" at ten food pantries across the state this summer. Along with the fresh produce, food pantry clients will benefit from nutrition information and cooking demonstrations provided on-site.

"The goal of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Nutrition Education Program is to help limited-resource individuals and families choose nutritious options and make behavior changes," said Marisa Aull, Assistant Director of the Nutrition Education Programs at the University of Kentucky. "We are excited at the opportunity to partner with Feeding Kentucky and offer our program to food pantry clients so they can make healthier choices in their eating to improve their health."

The state-wide produce recovery initiative has grown significantly thanks to support from the Kentucky's General Assembly and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture, private funders such as Lift a Life Foundation and Farm Credit Mid-America, and donations from individuals. In 2011, just over 140,000 pounds were distributed; the goal for 2019 is three million pounds. In the eight years of program implementation, enough Kentucky-grown produce has been distributed to fill half a plate full for over 30 million meals.

Kentucky was one of the first states to implement a Farms to Food Banks initiative and Kentucky's program was presented as a model for the federal government to consider. Feeding Kentucky board member and Dare to Care Executive Director Brian Riendeau testified about Kentucky's program to the Senate Agriculture Committee in 2017. The recently enacted Farm Bill includes funding for a federal Farms to Food Banks program for the first time.

The Farms to Food Banks program is administered by Feeding Kentucky, formerly known as the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. Feeding Kentucky is working to end hunger for the one in six Kentuckians, including 200,000 children, who do not always know where their next meal will come from. Feeding Kentucky's seven member Feeding America food banks support 800 local charitable agencies, which provide nutritious food directly to more than 600,000 individuals and families in need to ensure a hunger-free Kentucky. Last year the network distributed the equivalent of 64 million meals across Kentucky.

Interested Kentucky farmers should contact Feeding Kentucky at 859-986-7422 or a produce@feedingky.org.

To learn more about Feeding Kentucky, visit www.FeedingKy.org. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter: @FeedingKy.

React to this story: