By Karen Ross and Sue Sigler
The holiday season reminds us to be grateful for the blessings we have received and to share our good fortune with family, friends and those of who are less fortunate.
While many will tempt their waistlines enjoying the wonderful food produced here in California, it is important to remember that one in six Americans — nearly 47 million people — and one in four children — are food-insecure, meaning they lack appropriate access to healthy food.
In California, more than 4 million people — over 10% of the state’s population — wake up not necessarily knowing where their next meal is coming from. Furthermore, far too many of these families live in the Central Valley, close to our highly productive farms, and some of them may even work on those farms or elsewhere in the food delivery system.
We know that farmers and ranchers want to help solve this problem, and a new tax credit for 10% of inventory costs of fresh fruits and vegetables donated to California food banks, after Jan. 1, 2012, provides additional incentive.
Fortunately, a tradition of helping the needy is already firmly established in the farming community, a commitment we are honoring during the holidays by recognizing December as Farm to Food Bank Month. This year, approximately 135 million pounds of food (more than the weight of the International Space Station) were donated by farms and ranches to food banks in California.
This marks progress toward the goal set by the California State Board of Food and Agriculture and the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) to double farm-to-food bank contributions from 100 million pounds to 200 million pounds by 2015.
State board members are contributing product themselves and encouraging friends, neighbors and agricultural groups to help provide families with nutritious meals 52 weeks of the year.
For example, state board member Marvin Meyers, a Firebaugh grower, contributed 1,000 pounds of almonds to the food bank program earlier this month.
San Joaquin Valley citrus farmers have a system in place in which a truck circulates to packinghouses collecting fruit for food banks. A group of rice farmers in Yolo County earlier this month set the bar high for fellow farmers when it committed 160,000 pounds of California-grown rice to the needy. It was the largest single donation in the history of the Food Bank of Yolo County.
The benefits of donating healthy food to the needy extend beyond simply feeding the hungry, as critical as we know that to be.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has collaborated with the California Department of Public Health on the “Health in All Policies” task force, which produced an issue paper defining a healthy community and highlighting the necessity of affordable, accessible and nutritious foods.
The paper reinforced that healthy eating can help reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease and a host of other health problems. So food donations can move past mere sustenance and become an important nutritional stepping stone to help our children and our communities reach their full potential.
California food producers are in a perfect position to help. Not only because of proximity, but also because of the great variety of crops grown here — 50% of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables.
We are one of the few places on Earth with a Mediterranean-style climate, which allows us to grow exactly what’s on the USDA’s Dinner Plate — the new nutritional guideline for our country.
Many growers choose to donate surplus products to food banks. However, if outright donations are not possible due to logistical challenges, CAFB may be able to provide funding to cover picking and pack-out costs such as harvesting and packaging. All growers have to do to donate is call Karen DeWitt at CAFB at (831) 747-7395 or email her at Karen@calfoodbanks.org.
Once a donation is accepted, CAFB provides reliable on-time pickup from a professional carrier. CAFB can move truckloads of inventory within 24 to 48 hours. Regular weekly pickups can also be scheduled. CAFB is committed moving product quickly from farm to packinghouse, freeing dock, cooler and warehouse space for donors.
People are in need, especially during this holiday season. Helping families in need by sharing the bounty of our farms and ranches underscores the age old adage — ” ’tis better to give than receive.”
Sue Sigler is executive director of the California Association of Food Banks