Question of the Week
Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on food banks around the U.S. that contract with farmers to grow fresh produce. You mentioned a multi-county food bank in your area that you would like to contract with.
It would be worthwhile to try to see what you can negotiate with the local food bank. Following is some background information you may find useful. You may need to explore partnering with the food bank to secure a CSREES grant to pay farmers. The Low Country Food Bank (LCFB) of Charleston, SC (see below) has a CSREES grant to contract with farmers. You may need to contact LCFB for further details on how their contracts work, as their Web site (last updated 2005) did not contain any information on this program.
Within the last decade, USDA’s Cooperative States Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) (www.csrees.usda.gov) began offering grants to public agencies and non-profits to promote local food security. The program was reauthorized in 2002. Progress reports on CSREES grants to food banks offer some information on contractual links between food banks and farmers.
According to information in these reports, the practice of food banks contracting one-on-one with existing local farms to produce vegetables and fruits is uncommon. While food banks strive to insure availability of high-quality local produce to patrons, they have preferred to obtain free food, if at all possible, by diverting leftovers from the waste stream or enlisting paying customers to cover operating expenses of farming operations. In obtaining fresh produce, CSREES grantees almost invariably specified donations of leftovers from CSAs and farmers’ markets, community gardens, youth employment gardening, and backyard gardeners. Community gardeners, youth, and homeless were generally compensated for their labor in produce.
In several cases, a food bank used grant funds to set up some kind of vegetable-growing program on food-bank-owned land—usually combined with a CSA with paid subscribers, sponsorship of a farmers’ market, and/or a youth or homeless gardening program to provide labor. Especially where grant money is involved, food banks try to promote multiple community objectives—such as nutrition education and youth employment—in connection with food procurement, as some of the following examples show.
Western Massachusetts Food Bank, Hatfield, MA
Food Bank owns 60 a. and contracts with a group of farmers to run the operation as a CSA. Shareholder fees cover 100% of the operating costs. Fifty percent of the produce is donated to the Food Bank’s distribution stream.
Low Country Food Bank
1635 Cosgrove Avenue Ext
Charleston, SC 29405
Phone: (843) 747-8146
In 2005 Low Country Food Bank received a CSREES grant of $250,000. The project will sustain 10 farming systems by guaranteeing the purchase of over 60 percent of their farm crops for distribution to 25 faith-based, non-profit feeding programs, in addition to integrating local education programs, offering culinary job training, and creating niche branding and direct marketing programs to link farmers with retail food outlets.
South Plains Food Bank, Inc.
Growing Recruits for Urban Business (GRUB)—FY2000 CSREES grantee
Established a 5-acre Youth Farm on 5.5 a. land owned by local food bank. At-risk youth farmed vegetables, fruits, and herbs for CSA. Year 2—105,000 lbs. distributed through CSA and to project participants (labor); 55,000 lbs. donated to food bank.
Vermont Foodbank Farm
VFF, operated by Joseph Kiefer’s Food Works non-profit, grows 20 tons of produce per year for the Foodbank Distribution System.
Community Food Connections
Food to Bank On project
Works with five food banks and 16 small-scale beginning farmers. Main focus is teaching beginning farmers and providing a market for their produce. Funded by Community Food Co-op’s Farm Fund (Bellingham, WA) and administered by Sustainable Connections’ Food & Farming program since 2003.
The new farmers receive technical assistance, a mentor…, and are paid market rates to deliver their produce according to a set crop schedule, thus bringing high quality food to the hungry and also preparing them to deliver to other clients such as restaurants and grocery stores.
Emergency Food Assistance in Washington
Rotary First Harvest
www.worldhungeryear.org/fslc/buildingbridge.pdf (391 KB)
Lists 9 food banks with various relationships with farmers. See food banks’ Web sites for details. P. 2 of report discusses food procurement from local farmers.
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