Fostering the Relationship Between Food Pantries and Farms
Farmers donated over 11 million pounds of food in 2016 in New York State. In the Hudson Valley, charitable and community organizations depend on these donations to stock their year-round pantries. However, these donations often come with costs to the farmers themselves. “There is widespread need for fresh fruits and vegetables in New York’s food emergency system,” explains Susan Zimet of Hunger Action Network of New York State. “Unfortunately, it is often prohibitively expensive for farmers to donate their food due to steep harvesting, processing, and transportation costs.”
Farmers often face labor and time constraints in harvesting surplus produce. One way to mitigate this is for volunteers to undertake some or all of the work. Davenport Farms in Stone Ridge, for instance, opened its fields this fall to volunteers to pick broccoli, which was subsequently processed by another team of volunteers and distributed to local food banks. In Ulster County, much of the work connecting volunteers and farmers is done through Ulster Corps, which coordinates a gleaning team and donates all harvested produce to local food pantries in coordination with the Rondout Valley Growers Association’s (RVGA) Farm to Food Pantry Program.
Ulster Corps and RVGA are just two examples of organizations that facilitate the relationship between food pantries and farms, and that strive to ensure that donated produce reaches the most people possible. During the growing season, the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley is a major distributor of donated produce in the region with the capacity to make regular pick-ups at area farms, including at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. This capacity is especially important when a large quantity of perishable produce (such as lettuce) has just been harvested and needs to be moved quickly.
The Farm Hub has also developed one-on-one relationships with food banks, such as People’s Place in Kingston, with the cold storage infrastructure that can store large quantities of donated produce.
Some have suggested that a tax credit to farmers could also help offset the costs of donating food. For example, a recently proposed “farm-to-food-bank” bill aimed to provide up to a $5,000 state tax credit to farmers who give away excess or unsellable produce to charitable organizations. Each year, millions of pounds of produce in New York State go unharvested, much of it edible. Weather patterns and other variables can cause cosmetic blemishes that make otherwise viable produce unappealing to consumers.
Though Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill, supporters say the bill would provide added incentive for farmers to provide fresh food for the region’s underprivileged. State Senator Rich Funke will be among the legislators that will lead the effort to pass the bill this year. The New York State Senate has already unanimously voted in favor of the bill, and as of February 2017, the bill’s prospects in the Assembly are equally positive.
Even without added incentives or help from volunteers, many farmers continue to donate produce to local food banks. Larry Eckhert, a pumpkin farmer in Rensselaer County, says, “To me, as a farmer and as a fellow resident of earth, we need to help out whenever we can because there are some truly needy people out there .”
To learn more about volunteering to help fight food insecurity in the Hudson Valley, visit: