Farmers, food banks create partnership

In this trying economy, Americans are facing more than the prospect of losing their jobs. They’re being hit hard by high food prices and other difficulties, which is leading them to seek out other resources such as food banks for assistance.

Sadly, supply is not keeping up with this surge. Because of the current recession and higher food costs, food banks have seen a steady decline in donated packaged foods from manufacturers and grocery stores, which are historically their biggest donors.

Due to an increased need, food banks also require support from additional vendors. Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest, reported a 30 to 40 percent rise in demand from a year ago. Feeding America’s is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Its network of more than 200 distribution centers serves all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

To tackle the rising demand, many food banks and nonprofits are trying to partner with farmers, fishermen and schools while continuing partnerships with their usual allies.

Ohio food banks are benefiting from a first-time partnership between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH).

FHFH is a non-profit organization whose mission is to fight human hunger and deer overpopulation by contributing deer meat to church pantries, the Salvation Army, community food banks, emergency assistance programs and children's homes.

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank, which serves agencies in 20 counties, received a truckload of 800 pounds of animal meat from the FHFH earlier this month, according to a Columbus Dispatch article.

“It’ll make a substantial difference,” said Evelyn Behm, Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s vice president of strategic initiatives. “Our pantries are always in need of protein.”

In other parts of the country, fishermen in Southern California have donated boats, bait and deck hands for a deep-sea fishing excursion, which helped supply FOOD Share, Ventura County’s food bank.

In Vermont, the Foodbank plans to close on the purchase of a 20-acre farm by May, according to Judy Stermer, the food bank’s spokeswoman. The purchase will do more than add food to the needy. It will prevent commercial development, preserve farmland and restore the farm as a working farm to provide a center for agricultural education efforts and community activity. According to an Associated Press article written earlier this year, Foodbank officials plan to farm the land for root crops, renovate the aging barn into a four-season facility that can serve as a community meeting place, a winter farmer's market and an educational exhibit that focuses on the link between agriculture and hunger.

"Our intent is to raise 150,000 pounds of produce on the farm (annually) and make it available -- first and foremost -- locally in the Mad River Valley and Washington County and then to other food shelves and pantries around the state," said Doug O'Brien, CEO of the Barre Town-based food bank. “The short-term gain is significant, and the long-term gain is we'll continue to have the fresh produce and the educational opportunities to better understand the issue of hunger."

Fortunately, along with these new partnerships, there are still many programs and corporations, including grocers and food manufacturers, who have stepped in to help. Their contributions are usually in the form of money and transportation services. Last month in an Associated Press article, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. stated it will donate more meat and dairy products plus $2.5 million, while Kraft Foods, Inc. will fund a $4.5 million mobile pantry program.

Partnerships across the country are helping in large and small ways and every bit helps. What else can be done to help the hungry during the recession? Please comment below.

Ohioans continue to support farmers

In general, Ohioans continue to feel positive about Ohio agriculture, according to a recent survey conducted by The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In fact, 87 percent of Ohioans agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Overall, farming positively contributes to the quality of life in Ohio.”

Although the survey reveals some positive statements about Ohio agriculture, many believe that farmers must still be mindful of their duty.

“That’s a high level of support, but the agriculture community must still work to maintain that high level of confidence,” said Jeff Sharp, associate professor in rural sociology who oversaw the completion of this survey.

The biannual survey was mailed to 3,500 randomly selected Ohioans. The primary objective was to evaluate Ohioans’ attitudes about a variety of current food, farming and environmental topics. The survey received a response rate over 48 percent.

The survey also revealed that 84 percent agreed or strongly agreed that Ohio’s economy will suffer if the state continues to lose farmers. This shows that Ohioans realize the importance of farmers to the state’s economy. Ohio ranks 16th in the U.S with a market value of $4.3 billion in agriculture production.

Sixty percent of the respondents agreed with the statement: “I trust Ohio farmers to protect the environment.” Thirty percent answered undecided, and 10 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.

As I discussed in my last blog, there are sets of rules being debated by lawmakers that would relax EPA restrictions on several industries including agriculture. Twenty-three percent of Ohioans believe that environmental protection laws regulating farming are too strict, and 59 percent were undecided.

This indicates that there is a large portion of Ohioans who don’t have sufficient information to determine whether or not those laws are too strict. And this tells farmers that they need to take a more proactive approach in educating Ohioans about their business and how those laws affect their farms.

There is also an increasing number of Ohioans who have concern for the future of farming. Sixty-three percent were very concerned that there is a loss of farmland due to urban growth and 62 percent were very concerned about a loss of family farms.

Overall, Ohioans’ opinions about Ohio farming are positive and will remain that way as long as, according to Sharp, “farmers continue to be good neighbors and environmental stewards.”

How else does farming positively contribute to the quality of life in Ohio? Let me know your thoughts.