On the Road: Farm to Family Conference

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Over the last few years, our food banks have been hard at work building the networks and partnerships to increase the amount of fresh produce that we are capturing and distributing. In FY 2014, we hit an all-time best distributing nearly 7 million pounds of fresh produce to the families visiting our pantries and meal programs. This is good but we can do better.

82% of the people visiting our programs report purchasing less expensive, “unhealthy” food to stretch their food budgets. This makes sense since calorically dense food is often cheaper than food that is more nutritionally dense.

These types of food – dry, shelf stable goods, bread and bakery – are generally also the kinds of food that are available in food banks. While these items are important staples in any home, fresh products like fruits, vegetables and proteins remain at a premium for our clients.

This is why we are focused on increasing the availability of these products – and in a big way. We hope to at least double our output in the next few years.  And, with between 100 and 150 million pounds of fresh, nutritious agricultural surplus that is either left in our Wisconsin farm fields or unsold due to some other cosmetic imperfection, the food is out there.

The million dollar question is of course, how do we get after it?

Needless to say, I was excited to snag an invite to the Farm to Family conference being put on this week by our sister organization the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) and sponsored by Walmart.

CAFB’s Farm to Family Program captures nearly 150 million pounds of fresh agricultural products grown in California and distributes them through its network of partner food banks.

Of course California, being the breadbasket of the nation, if not the world, has some unique advantages with regard to fresh produce. The conference was held in Fresno, which tops the nation in agricultural sales with $3.7 billion in annual agricultural sales. But the challenges they face – transportation, cost, and speed to distribution – are the same challenges that we face as well.

We have advantages too. We are in top ten of agricultural states in the nation and home to the second most organic farms in the nation, second only to California. Just think, if we could get just 10% of the 150 million pounds that are out there, that would more than double what we are distributing today.

So this week, I’ll be learning from CAFB about how to supercharge our Share Fresh Wisconsin program,  helps farmers growing specialty market crops connect their surplus to our food banks and will be sharing the unique processes behind the innovative Field to Foodbank program that our member Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin has pioneered.  

You can learn more about these programs here.

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