One of the first issues to emerge in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was a food emergency. Farmers and ranchers who supplied restaurants, hotels, schools and other institutional food service customers suddenly saw those channels shut down. On the other side of things, the number of families seeking assistance from food banks due to job losses increased dramatically. In all, farmers and ranchers lost 50 percent of their markets, and food banks saw a 73 percent increase in demand year-over-year.
I am grateful that Governor Newsom and CDFA were able to leverage a long-standing partnership with the California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family Program to minimize the amount of food that may have been wasted and redirect it to food boxes for families. So far this year, the program has received donations of more than 134 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Farmers have been feeding the need, and several members of the ag family – from Grimmway Farms, Pacific Coast Producers, Sunkist, Lundberg Farms and so many more have donated to this statewide effort. This is an example of how California farmers work every year to make healthy California Grown food available to families in need with donations to their local food banks and through these two statewide programs.
I am also thankful for strong partnerships with the California Department of Social Services and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ Food Supply Task Force. We are working together to assist in the management the state’s response to the pandemic.
I am especially grateful for the creativity in rapidly standing up another beneficial state program – Great Plates Delivered – which helps meet the food needs of quarantined seniors by delivering restaurant
s meals. It comes with the added benefits of helping to keep restaurant workers employed as the industry has struggled to avoid closures, and helping small farmers who are their suppliers. More than 19.5 million Great Plates Delivered meals have been served this year.
Additionally, CDFA was able to quickly pivot its Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which provides vouchers for produce from farmers’ markets to needy seniors. Quarantined seniors weren’t able to visit the markets but CDFA, in collaboration with the California Farm Bureau, the California Alliance with Family Farmers, and the Farm to Family Program of the California Association of Food Banks, facilitated the distribution of 20,242 produce boxes containing 506,050 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 20,000 low-income seniors. I am thankful to CDFA staff members Crystal Myers, Josh Eddy and Monica Pedigo. They were relentless in finding this alternative way to the delight of seniors who were the recipients!
I am grateful every day for the bounty of California agriculture and especially for the generosity and commitment of farmers, food banks, our sister agencies and dedicated CDFA staff to ensure that every Californian has access to this bounty.