Grant Means More Fresh Produce for Food Banks
By Becky Volk
Social Media Specialist, Tarrant Area Food Bank
Empowering Communities to Eliminate Hunger
January may be a long way off, but the Feeding Texas network of 21 Texas food banks is hard at work drumming up support for a key grant program. The Surplus Agricultural Products Grant Program, which passed shortly after 2001, was created to award funding to nonprofits like food banks. The grant gives food banks an opportunity to collect surplus fruits and vegetables directly from farmers for distribution to partner hunger-relief agencies. The state Legislature will review the grant program at the start of next year to decide if an increase in financial support is appropriate.
More specifically, this grant helps food banks secure more fresh produce from farmers who have an excess amount of product and are seeking a venue to take the product. The grant, offered through the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offsets the cost of picking up, packing and transporting the produce to food banks.
According to Feeding Texas, there is a potential of more than 350 million pounds of surplus produce in our state available for food banks and pantries to secure. Gaining access to fresh fruits and vegetables of this magnitude helps ensure food banks succeed in their mission to provide nutritious food to those experiencing food insecurity.
Food banks and their partner agencies work day after day to provide men, women and children access to nutrient-rich foods. In the past 12 months, TAFB sourced 8.5 million pounds of fresh produce to Partner Agencies and food-insecure clients. Of that 8.5 million pounds, 3.5 million was purchased through the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant Program.
Since more produce is being collected locally, the overall cost per pound has decreased for TAFB to acquire these food items. This allows for more produce to be picked up and distributed to communities in need. In addition, the grant program has given TAFB and other food banks greater access to seasonal produce such as leafy greens, citrus fruits and winter squash varieties.
The increase in availability of fresh produce also allows TAFB to reach further into communities that we were not able to fully assist in the past. The biggest communities impacted by the increased variety of produce is in the refugee population. In general, refugees are not accustomed to Americanized, shelf-stable food items and therefore may not have the knowledge on how to prepare them. Their familiarity with how to prepare fresh food and vegetables falls more in line with how they ate in their country of origin where they most likely consumed more fresh produce.
Education and Resources
Our educational programs are an excellent resource for sustainable solutions in the fight against hunger. The TAFB Community Garden program provides emerging community gardens with support and guidance. Our expert staff offer consult visits as well as direction on where to acquire low-cost plants, seeds and gardening materials. We also encourage community garden leaders who have worked with us to participate in our quarterly Garden Leadership Group. The group focuses on continued education of gardening practices and networking opportunities.
One garden our staff has worked closely with is the Neighborhood Needs Community Garden. Bhutanese refugees help maintain the garden, which is located at the Altamesa Church of Christ in Fort Worth. Neighborhood Needs Community Garden Coordinator DeWitt Manahay noted that unique produce, like hot chilies, daikon radish, and uncommon varieties of gourds, can be found in the garden. The North Texas climate, shared TAFB Community Garden Coordinator Becca Smith, is perfect for growing fruits and vegetables that the refugee community is familiar with preparing and eating. Community gardening efforts are vital to so many by helping grow relationships that link food-insecure families and individuals to nutrient-rich foods.
Finding ways of securing nutritious food is what we do. Every summer Tarrant Area Food Bank provides women and children direct access to farm-fresh fruit and vegetables through our Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), which is funded through a separate grant program. From May through August, TAFB works with a local farmer from the Downtown Farmers Association to distribute fresh produce at designated WIC clinics in Arlington and Fort Worth. We bring the farmer to the client allowing families to go home with nutritious food the same day they pick up their vouchers, making our FMNP one of the most innovative programs in the state.
In 2015, our Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program provided 3,138 families with enough fresh, locally grown produce for 608,790 meals.
Collaboration: You Can Help
According to Feeding Texas, when the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant Program was established in 2001, $500,000 was allotted to be awarded through the TDA to Texas food banks who applied for the grant. When the 85th Texas Legislature convenes in Austin next year, Feeding Texas will seek $22 million in funds for the grant program.
Feeding Texas has three key goals. Gaining consistent access to 125 million pounds of fresh produce statewide per year is first on the list. Next is efficiently sourcing produce and providing transportation that will lower costs for food banks. The final goal is improving the overall health of those experiencing food insecurity by increasing access to nutritious food options.
For updated information on the status of the Surplus Agriculture Products Grant visit the Feeding Texas website as the 85th Texas Legislature comes into session in January 2017.