FRANKFORT – When you and your family shop for local produce at your farmers’ market or grocery store this summer, what will you look for? A recent study found that most people look for produce without any blemishes. What happens to produce with a cosmetic blemish? At the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), we work to steer that nutritious produce to hungry Kentuckians in need through a program called Farms To Food Banks.
Farms to Food Banks is a public-private partnership that helps farmers recoup losses for produce that will not be sold to the public but otherwise is good to eat. The program is supported by the General Assembly and individuals who donate a portion of their state income tax refund. Additional funding sources such as the United States Department of Agriculture, Farm Credit Mid-America, and the Lift A Life Foundation also help make Farms to Food Banks possible. Since the program began in 2011, Feeding Kentucky has rescued and distributed 18.5 million pounds of Kentucky produce, enough for 30 million meals. That’s great news for our farmers and for our hungry friends and neighbors.
When I took office in 2016, we launched the Kentucky Hunger Initiative, a first-of-its-kind effort in Kentucky to bring together farmers, charitable organizations, faith groups, community leaders, and government entities to look for ways to reduce hunger in Kentucky. We’ve held many town hall meetings across the state discussing hunger, and this year, we collaborated with the University of Kentucky’s (UK) Nutrition Education Program to put one of our Kentucky Hunger Initiative ideas into action: They are developing recipe cards to teach limited-resource individuals and families how to prepare fresh produce grown by Kentucky farmers. The recipe cards will be available at your local Extension office. UK is going even further, hosting cooking demonstrations at Farms To Food Banks food pantry locations so that folks can see how to whip up their own Kentucky Proud meals.
I am most proud of the way Kentucky’s farm community has stepped up to fight hunger. Just recently, Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance held a fundraising event to draw attention and generate funds for hunger relief organizations in our state. The first “Clays for a Cause” event raised more than $115,000 to support Feeding Kentucky, Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry, and Glean KY. Actions like this from one of Kentucky’s leading farm organizations show that our farmers and agribusinesses have a special role to play in reducing hunger.
Even with an economy that is the strongest since the Great Recession, it is still an unfortunate reality that 1 in 6 Kentuckians, including 1 in 5 Kentucky schoolchildren, are food insecure. Not to mention the fact that Kentucky net farm income is half of what it was in 2012. Fortunately, programs like Farms To Food Banks serve multiple purposes: helping farmers, feeding the hungry, and reducing food waste.
That’s why this summer I am challenging farmers, businesses, and everybody else to support the Farms To Food Banks Trust Fund. If you are a farmer who has produce that you cannot sell in the marketplace, please know that Feeding Kentucky is looking to purchase it. If you’re not a farmer, you can make a donation to Feeding Kentucky at www.feedingky.org.
While more than 900 farmers from 90 counties have participated in Farms To Food Banks, there are 76,000 farms in our state, so there is plenty of room to grow. With your help, KDA and Feeding Kentucky will have more resources to fight food insecurity throughout Kentucky and expand a market for Kentucky farmers to sell surplus and less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables.
Ryan Quarles serves as Commissioner of Agriculture for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.