When COVID-19 shut down the food service industry, which supplies entertainment venues like sports arenas, cruise ships and theme parks, many farmers had crops out in the field without their usual buyers open to purchase the goods.
The USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) provides direct relief to producers who faced changes in market availability and pricing. As part of this program, the USDA created the Farmers to Families Food Box program to purchase and distribute agricultural products to those who need them. Growers apply for the program and once approved, they harvest products that are then distributed through food banks to serve their local communities.
Across the country, farmers will package goods worth $1.2 billion into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving needy Americans from May 15 through June 30, according to the USDA.
“This is a very beneficial program that will ensure that all of their produce will be sold, and they will remain economically viable through this unique season due to COVID-19,” said Wendy Mussoline, a UF/IFAS Extension agriculture agent.
L&M Farms, which spans approximately 2,000 acres across St. Johns, Flagler and Putnam Counties, participated in the USDA CFAP program as one of 40 awardees in the southeastern United States.
L&M Farms will provide approximately 12 loads per week to local food banks. Each load consists of 2,400 boxes to be distributed to families. That amounts to 28,800 boxes of assorted produce or 432,000 pounds each week. In addition to the produce L&M Farms harvests and donates, UF/IFAS donated approximately 6,000 pounds of sweet corn grown at the UF/IFAS Hastings Agriculture Extension Center to be incorporated into the L&M Farms food box program.
“This allows us to use products that we lost our market for once food service closed down,” said L&M Farms farm manager, Adam Lytch. “It allows us to use items we do not have homes for and provide them to families. That’s what we’re most excited about, feeding local families.”
Produce is delivered to local food bank locations, Bread of the Mighty in Gainesville, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in Daytona Beach, Feeding Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, and several others. These primary locations are responsible for distributing the boxes to smaller food banks around the tri-county area of Putnam, Flagler and St. Johns counties.
“This local distribution opportunity to deliver all of their boxes to specific locations, ensures that the produce grown in the Tri County Agricultural Area (TCAA) will go to hungry families in the TCAA and immediately surrounding counties like Volusia, Alachua, and Duval,” Mussoline said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity that the USDA has extended to our farmers and hopefully we will continue to shorten the route between farm to hungry families in our communities.”
The produce deliveries will continue throughout the USDA CFAP program period, but L&M Farms submitted a proposal to continue this delivery route until the end of the year as long as the produce remains available.