Secretary Ross Co-Authors Op-ed
On Farms and Food Banks
By Karen Ross and Sue Sigler
It’s another day at Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville,
and work crews are picking broccoli and cauliflower for two clients — with one
harvest bin for retail customers and another for the state’s food banks. It’s a
prime example of California farmers and ranchers doing their share to help
people in need, a need that continues to grow.
One in six Americans — nearly 47 million people — and
one in four children are food-insecure and must rely upon others to help them
get enough to eat. In California, more than 4 million people don’t know where
their next meal is coming from. In Monterey County, more than 67,000 people are
As our nation faces epidemic rates of diet-related
diseases, we have developed a deeper understanding of the value of high-quality
food. Food banks around the state place a high value on distributing fresh
fruits and vegetables to people in need.
Ocean Mist Farms is a stalwart supporter, contributing
more than 1 million pounds of produce last year to a California Association of
Food Banks (CAFB) program called Farm to Family. Not far away, a Watsonville
farming operation, Driscoll Berries, donated 4 million pounds of berries last
year to local food banks. This year, the state’s farmers and ranchers are
expected to donate approximately 135 million pounds of product to food banks
through the Farm to Family program alone. Many support other outstanding
efforts, such as Ag Against Hunger in Monterey County, which provides well over
11 million pounds of produce to food banks and distribution agencies each
As advocates for food banks, we’re hoping the numbers
will increase. One measure that may help is legislation passed last year to
create a state tax credit for 10 percent of the inventoried value of fresh
fruit and vegetable donations to food banks. If growers have product available
but not a workable logistical operation for donations, CAFB may be able to
provide funding to cover picking and pack-out costs.
CAFB is committed to moving product quickly from farm
or packing house, helping to free dock, cooler and warehouse space. This can
reduce farmer costs by eliminating dumping fees and allowing coolers to be
emptied and turned off, saving energy costs. When a donation is accepted, CAFB
provides reliable on-time pick up from a professional carrier. CAFB can move
truckloads of inventory within 24 to 48 hours. Regular weekly pickups can also
State board (of food and agriculture) members, many of
them farmers, are making contributions and encouraging friends, neighbors and
associates to join in. J. Miles Reiter, CEO of Driscoll, says the objective is
to get nutritious foods to people rather than the landfill.
The process is simple, said Fresno County almond
grower and state board member Marvin Meyers.
“We just called our handler, told him how much product
we wanted to contribute, and that was all there was to it,” he said.
We envision a day when farmers plant a small
percentage of their crop for the benefit of those in need. With a streamlined
food bank system in place, the availability of a tax credit and the ability to
help cover some production costs, we hope all farmers and ranchers will
consider joining us.
Karen Ross is
California secretary of food and agriculture. Sue Sigler is executive director
of the California Association of Food Banks. More information: cafoodbanks.org or, for the Farm to Family
Labels: Karen Ross, Monterey County Herald Op-Ed, Ocean Mist Farms Food banks, Sue Sigler