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jars of peanut butter

Peanut Butter Challenge collects over 22 tons statewide

Over 45,000 pounds of peanut butter have now been sent out to local food banks statewide following the 2021 Peanut Butter Challenge, an effort led by the Cooperative Extension offices of UF/IFAS and Florida A&M University (FAMU) in partnership with local organizations.

The annual jar collection began in the Florida Panhandle counties in 2012 as a way to combat food insecurity with a shelf-stable product while also highlighting the peanut’s Florida-grown roots. The effort expanded statewide in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when an estimated one in 10 Floridians faced food insecurity, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Participating offices rely on grassroots community support to collect jars of peanut butter from Oct. 1 until the day before Thanksgiving, after which they’re counted, bragging rights are awarded, and the jars are delivered locally.

By the numbers:

  • 45,157 total poundage collected
  • 35,109 total jars collected

This year’s Peanut Butter Challenge community collection alone can make over 700,000 peanut butter sandwiches! Fifty-five competitors accepted the 2021 challenge, including FAMU’s first entry and a UF campus collection for the campus food bank, the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field & Fork Pantry.

Many of the newcomers seemed to hit their stride, as totals increased 18,000 pounds over the first statewide competition. The top overall community collector of 2021 earned the title in only its second attempt: Levy County amassed 6,954 jars for a whopping 7,120 pounds.

“Our success this year is all thanks to our community, from the local school collections to an incredible donation from the Levy County Farm Bureau, Williston Peanut and Peanut Proud,” said Kristen Brault, who coordinated the UF/IFAS Extension Levy County collection. “We grow and process a lot of peanuts here in Levy County, and it’s rewarding to be able to give these jars right back to food banks, big and small, across our county.”

Madison County brought in an impressive haul, as well, at 6,807 pounds; other top performers include regional champions Jefferson County (Northwest, 2,237 pounds), Hardee County (Southwest, 2,000 pounds), Hernando County (Central, 1,731 pounds) and Indian River County (Southeast, 1,185 pounds).

In addition to engaging local communities, the Peanut Butter Challenge has partnered with the Florida Peanut Producers Association (FPPA) and Florida Peanut Federation (FPF) for years. These organizations, based in the northwest and northeast peanut-producing regions of the state, also contribute pallets of the nutrient-dense spread to the totals distributed to food pantries in those regions. Peanut production contributed $119 million to the state economy in 2019, according to the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service.

“The Peanut Butter Challenge makes such a simple ask – donating a jar of peanut butter – but our communities always respond in a big way,” said Libbie Johnson, UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County agriculture agent and co-organizer of the Challenge since its inception. “It’s exciting to be able to share so much of this nutritious, Florida-grown product with our neighbors who may be struggling. Thank you to everyone who donated a jar to the cause this year.”

County coordinators of the Peanut Butter Challenge also shared some success stories:

  • Bay County: A. Gary Walsingham Academy collected 167 jars totaling 231 pounds.
  • Calhoun County (collection in featured image, courtesy of Claire Reach): Local peanut farmer and FPPA board member Joe Tillman served as the county’s 2021 Peanut Butter Challenge Ambassador, providing a whole case of peanut butter for the first donation of the season. A large portion of the donations came from a competition within the Calhoun County school system, with all of Carr School and a few classes from Altha Public School engaging in friendly competition that added up to a total of 498 jars for 607 pounds for the county.
  • Escambia County: Delivering peanut butter was a community effort, with help from two local farmers and a Master Gardener Volunteer. Representative Michelle Salzman and a local Girl Scout group delivered almost 100 jars to the Extension office. The office also had help from Commissioner Steven Barry and his daughter in kicking off the event.
  • FAMU: The peanut butter was distributed to help shelves in the Tallahassee area, the FAMU campus pantry, and to local Title 1 Schools for the backpack program that sends food home with kids who need it.
  • Franklin County: Maddison Whitten, a student in the Franklin County High School National Honor Society chapter, chose to lead a service project to contribute to the Peanut Butter Challenge. The school engaged in some friendly competition and collected over 800 jars of peanut butter for 1,004 pounds.
  • Gulf County: Commissioner David Rich donated the first jar of the 2021 collection.
  • Hernando County: Two brand new elementary school 4-H clubs used one of their first projects to design a marketing campaign to collect peanut butter in their school. They set a first-year goal of 500 jars. Using posters, word of mouth and visiting some local stores, the Pine Grove Cubs and Cloverbuds collected 700 jars of peanut butter totaling 777.75 pounds. In another mini-competition, the county government departments competed for the traveling peanut trophy. Each year, the winning department’s name will be engraved; in 2021, it’s the Hernando County Utilities Department.
  • Indian River County: The county not only took in donations from the community at large, but 4-H clubs got involved in a friendly competition as well! A local citrus company donated coupons for ice cream at their farm store to the winning club. One club donated 265 pounds, with the runner-up club receiving 258 pounds. Overall, they raised five times more than last year.
  • Jackson County: 4-H’er Blair brought in the first donation of the 2021 competition.
  • Jefferson County: The Jefferson County Somerset Charter School donated 925 pounds of peanut butter. Mrs. Barrington’s class donated 386 pounds of peanut butter.
  • Lafayette County: A local 4-H’er, whose family also grows peanuts, served as the county’s 2021 Peanut Butter Challenge Ambassador and delivered its first jar.
  • Madison County: An impressive 1,450.7 pounds of the collection came from one school with just 300 students.
  • Martin County: The county also got one jar of jelly donated. The donor said, “You can’t have peanut butter without jelly,” as they dropped it off.
  • Nassau County: County Commissioner Thomas Ford stopped by with the first peanut butter donation.
  • Okaloosa County: Sheila Fitzgerald, Okaloosa County deputy administrator, donated the first three jars to its 2021 collection.
  • Orange County: A friendly 4-H competition gathered 384 jars for 650 pounds, and then members and staff helped to deliver the jars to three local organizations.
  • Polk County: 180 pounds of peanut butter went to the Florida Dream Center.
  • UF campus: The Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field & Fork Pantry was out of peanut butter prior to the competition’s close, but donations were made available when the need arose. Over 250 pounds of the spread went to feed campus community members in need.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
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