Every year in October, people all around Florida go nutty for a good cause. It’s the Peanut Butter Challenge—an annual food drive to fight hunger. Throughout October, people are encouraged to donate unopened jars of peanut butter to participating UF/IFAS Extension offices throughout the state. Once the jars are collected and tallied, they’re distributed to local food banks and food pantries to feed families in need. Florida A&M University also competes in the challenge, and UF students and faculty can drop off peanut butter at the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field & Fork Pantry on the main campus.
In many counties, Florida peanut growers contribute to these donations, which can amount to pallet-loads of peanut butter to feed the hungry. Last year, a total of 13.5 tons of peanut butter was collected, enough to make over 400,000 peanut butter sandwiches.
What’s so special about peanut butter? For one thing, it’s packed with nutrients. A tablespoon serving contains 7 grams of protein and more than 30 essential vitamins and minerals, as well as dietary fiber and healthy fats. This makes it especially helpful to more than 2.25 million Floridians who suffer from food insecurity—meaning that they lack reliable access to enough food for a healthy and active life.
If you’ve ever been “starving” and needed to fix a quick PB&J to fill the void, you know how effective peanut butter is at curbing hunger. For people who are really struggling, it can be a life-changer.
Add to that the fact that jars of peanut butter have a long shelf-life, and it’s easy to see why the spread is a staple at food banks and food pantries everywhere.
In Washington County, Family and Community Sciences Extension Agent Judy Corbus has been involved with the Peanut Butter Challenge since it started in 2012. Washington County has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state. Like a lot of rural areas in Florida, it has food deserts—areas where sources of fresh, healthy food are out of range for many people. Judy and others collect peanut butter from local churches, 4-H clubs and other donors and distribute them to the Shephard’s Gate Church and the Care and Share Food Pantry in Chipley.
Every week, about 30 to 40 people come to the Care and Share Food Pantry to pick up grocery bags that Sarah Franklin and other volunteers fill with dry milk, canned meats and vegetables, and other staple foods—enough to feed a small family for 3-4 days. Peanut butter is a popular item, especially with children, but it’s too often in short supply. For Sarah, the Peanut Butter Challenge is a miraculous act of generosity. “Just when you think you can’t keep your shelves stocked, people will write you a check or bring eggs their chickens have laid or a pallet of peanut butter will show up at the door,” she says. “Work at a food pantry and you’ll see the compassion that people can have for their neighbors.”
The Peanut Butter Challenge is also a great way to celebrate Florida’s peanut growers. Florida is the third biggest peanut producer in the nation. In 2022, more than 554 million pounds of peanuts were produced here, and most are made into peanut butter. Our stakeholders in the Florida Peanut Producers Association and the Florida Peanut Federation are partners and major contributors to this effort. Many peanut growers in North Florida have experienced terrible losses from Hurricane Idalia, right in the middle of harvest season. Seth Adams, manager of Suwannee River Peanuts, says that producers are working hard to harvest their crops despite damaged equipment, warehouses and drying facilities. “The agriculture community is showing resilience and trying to stand back on its feet again, and needs our support.”
Contributing to the Peanut Butter Challenge is one way to show your support for the people who put food on our tables.
So this is why it’s good to go nutty for the Peanut Butter Challenge – it brings peanut growers, Extension agents, volunteers and generous people together to help address the problem of hunger in our communities.
To learn more about the Peanut Butter Challenge and where you can donate, visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/peanutbutter/