Grant money to help bridge gap between farm fields and food banks

Published 10:00 am Saturday, January 2, 2021

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For the second year in a row, some Virginia farmers and food banks for whom they grow food will receive funding through the Farm to Food Bank Project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Virginia will receive over $100,000 as part of the $7.4 million set aside for The Emergency Food Assistance Program’s (TEFAP) Farm to Food Bank Project. Virginia is one of 29 states receiving grant money in 2022.

The grants support the harvesting, processing, packaging or transportation of food donated by farmers, processors or distributors for use by emergency feeding organizations such as food banks. TEFAP projects help expand the availability of locally grown foods by facilitating farmer donations and fostering stronger relationships between farmers, food banks and other organizations involved in food donation efforts.

“Farmers are eager to help, but increasing labor and transportation costs at the farm level can make it challenging for food donations to reach where they are needed,” noted Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Farm to Food Bank funding can help provide much-needed food products to food banks, including fresh produce and dairy.”

Eddie Oliver, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, said the state network of food banks has invested money into refrigeration and storage so that more fresh produce can be made available. “We’re really targeting an increase in the percentage of fresh produce in our food banks, and this money will go a long way toward accomplishing that.”

Oliver said his organization has developed relationships with farmers across Virginia through the state’s Food Crop Donation Tax Credit, which was established in 2016. It provides farmers who grow food for nonprofit food banks a tax credit of up to 30% of the fair market value, up to $5,000. That credit comes after a crop has been planted and harvested.

Oliver said many farmers need to cover the cost of harvesting the food before it’s donated. So knowing there’s grant money available when planning spring crops, more farmers should be able to grow food for food banks.

He noted that the Federation of Food Banks has been successful getting apples and cabbages donated but “hope to broaden the diversity of products.”

Heidi Hertz, Virginia’s deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry, said the federal funding will help close the gap between farmers, food banks and pantries that assist people in need. “Agriculture is the state’s No. 1 private industry, but 150,000 Virginians struggle with hunger and food insecurity.”

She added that farmers desire to help, but they also have to consider what’s economically viable. “Farmers have been so generous, and they want to partner with the food programs. With TEFAP, we now have multiple funding streams to help make the connections.”

Earlier in 2021, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance Program, which provides $600,000 in reimbursements to farmers for the cost of harvesting, processing, packing and transporting agricultural products donated to charitable food assistance organizations.

Hertz said that $1 million from the state’s American Rescue Plan will be allocated to the program later in 2022.

And together with the state’s tax credit, “we’re getting closer to bridging the gap from field to food bank,” Hertz said.