Farmers and Foodbanks: Enduring the Pandemic

Farmers and Foodbanks: Enduring the Pandemic

Last spring, the state of California forced restaurants to go on lockdown to help halt the spread of Covid-19. When this happened, farmers and ranchers lost half their market | Learn more on Commonshare | – and as millions of people lost jobs throughout the economy, food banks needed to triple their food supply. 
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The Farm to Family Program
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The farmers had agricultural products – food – they couldn’t sell. The food banks had a great need. Enter California’s Farm to Family program, run by the California Association of Food Banks and supported by the Department of Food and Agriculture.
The program paid farmers to send the produce they couldn’t sell to the food banks. As program director Steve Linkhart explained, the program and the farmers rely on each other: “During this time, the farmers have really leaned on food banks to be an outlet for their product.”
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Rising to Meet a Growing Need 
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Over a dozen states have similar programs, and many have scaled them up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, several other states have created or expanded online marketplaces for their own farmers and ranchers as they transition to direct-to-consumer sales. 
The programs are helping to meet a growing need: 17 million Americans face food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, as hunger-relief organization Feeding America reports. 
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) | Learn more on Commonshare | has also launched its own $3 billion effort to buy food and deliver it to food banks. The program succeeded in delivering 50 million food box by the end of July, but it has had difficulties in the supply chain.
California Program
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The California program reimburses farmers for labor and packaging expenses, but the farmers still donate their surplus crops. The payments are small, but they have been just enough to keep some farmers in business. 
Even a month before Covid-19, the program was shipping about 12 million pounds of food. Commodities that farmers provided to the food banks included potatoes, onions, apples, oranges, and pears. However, when the pandemic hit, the volume spiked to 18 million pounds before tapering off in response to the arrival of federal supplies. 
Cannon Michael’s Story
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Cannon Michael, CEO of the Bowles Farming Company in the San Joaquin Valley, found himself with a crop of onions | Learn more on Commonshare | and other produce right as he lost restaurant buyers. His solution: a partnership with the Farmlink Project, a nonprofit created by college students for the purpose of connecting farmers and food banks. 
Dairy Farmers Also Affected
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Dairy farmers have played a key role in the program as well. 
Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of trade group Western United Dairies, explains that dairy farmers are relying on food banks to be major customers, in part because the food banks have refrigerated trucks and storage. 
“Some farmers would have lost their whole herd without these [partnerships],” Raudabaugh explains. “It was significant to them to be able to stay in business.”
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The Situation in Washington 
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A similar story is playing out in Washington State. Mystery Bay Farms, a small goat dairy owned by Rachael Van Laanen, lost half of its sales overnight. Van Laanen partnered with neighboring farmers to sell her products through their online sales and direct delivery programs, but it wasn’t enough.
Then the North Olympic Development Council got involved. Along with partner organizations, they raised about $70,000 and put the money in farmers’ pockets, paying them for their food up front in exchange for a pledge to provide the crop to local food banks over the next several years. 
As Van Laanen explained, “It just has allowed me to keep buying everything I need to buy to keep producing.”
Van Laanen says the farm will repay the money in about a year by donating about 200 pounds of cheese to local food banks. 
 

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