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A USDA Program Gives a Second Chance to Food That Stores Won’t Sell — But is Perfectly Good to Eat
Illinois Ag Connection - 12/04/2023

Over 100 billion pounds of food goes to waste every year in America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to Food Bank is trying to cut down on that waste by connecting local farmers and food pantries, but it’s future depends on how much funding is included for the program in the next farm bill. Volunteers are packing up meals in the production hall at the Northern Illinois Food Bank — about an hour west of Chicago.

The majority of food banks across the country, including this one, report increased demand. In 2022, 13% of U.S. families said that they were food insecure at some point in the year.

“Right now we're working really hard on our holiday meal box program, getting about 50,000 traditional holiday meals out our food pantries,” said Jacob Lamplough, the food bank’s interim director of food procurement and donor development manager.

Over the past few years, the Northern Illinois Food Bank has been able to provide a lot more local produce to residents. They’ve received 400,000 pounds of food that otherwise would have nowhere to go.

“The peaches are the big one, we've had apples, and then we've even had things like squash and a bunch of different peppers,” he said.

That additional food has all been through Farm to Food Bank, a federally-funded program that’s currently in 28 states, including Illinois. It focuses on food farmers can’t sell to supermarkets because it has a blemish, a weird shape or just isn’t the right size. Before the program, such food often rotted away on farms, because there was no market for them.

How Farm to Food Bank works

Authorized through the 2018 farm bill, the Farm to Food Bank program has moved millions of pounds of surplus food. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture handed out more than $7 million to state agencies for Farm to Food Bank projects, including in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Michigan.

Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for the USDA’s Food, Nutrition, & Consumer Services, said they still hope to spark interest in states that aren’t participating, such as Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

“These are the bread baskets of our country,” said Dean. “And if they're leaving food available, unharvested, that we can be using to feed vulnerable families, then let's work together to figure out a path forward.”


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