By Karen Ross and Sue Sigler
It’s another day at Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville, and work crews are picking broccoli and cauliflower for two clients — with one harvest bin for retail customers and another for the state’s food banks. It’s a prime example of California farmers and ranchers doing their share to help people in need, a need that continues to grow.
One in six Americans — nearly 47 million people — and one in four children are food-insecure and must rely upon others to help them get enough to eat. In California, more than 4 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. In Monterey County, more than 67,000 people are food insecure.
As our nation faces epidemic rates of diet-related diseases, we have developed a deeper understanding of the value of high-quality food. Food banks around the state place a high value on distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need.
Ocean Mist Farms is a stalwart supporter, contributing more than 1 million pounds of produce last year to a California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) program called Farm to Family. Not far away, a Watsonville farming operation, Driscoll Berries, donated 4 million pounds of berries last year to local food banks. This year, the state’s farmers and ranchers are expected to donate approximately 135 million pounds of product to food banks through the Farm to Family program alone. Many support other outstanding efforts, such as Ag Against Hunger in Monterey County, which provides well over 11 million pounds of produce to food banks and distribution agencies each year.
As advocates for food banks, we’re hoping the numbers will increase. One measure that may help is legislation passed last year to create a state tax credit for 10 percent of the inventoried value of fresh fruit and vegetable donations to food banks. If growers have product available but not a workable logistical operation for donations, CAFB may be able to provide funding to cover picking and pack-out costs.
CAFB is committed to moving product quickly from farm or packing house, helping to free dock, cooler and warehouse space. This can reduce farmer costs by eliminating dumping fees and allowing coolers to be emptied and turned off, saving energy costs. When a donation is accepted, CAFB provides reliable on-time pick up from a professional carrier. CAFB can move truckloads of inventory within 24 to 48 hours. Regular weekly pickups can also be scheduled.
State board (of food and agriculture) members, many of them farmers, are making contributions and encouraging friends, neighbors and associates to join in. J. Miles Reiter, CEO of Driscoll, says the objective is to get nutritious foods to people rather than the landfill.
The process is simple, said Fresno County almond grower and state board member Marvin Meyers.
“We just called our handler, told him how much product we wanted to contribute, and that was all there was to it,” he said.
We envision a day when farmers plant a small percentage of their crop for the benefit of those in need. With a streamlined food bank system in place, the availability of a tax credit and the ability to help cover some production costs, we hope all farmers and ranchers will consider joining us.
Karen Ross is California secretary of food and agriculture. Sue Sigler is executive director of the California Association of Food Banks. More information: cafoodbanks.org or, for the Farm to Family Program, SteveLinkhart@cafoodbanks.org.