Food Banks and Farmers Partner Up for a Season of Hunger Relief
By Jenelle Jagmin, Resource Development Manager, Food Bank Council of Michigan
As people in Michigan’s food community prepare for another hopeful season of planting and harvesting, those who suffer hunger are preparing for one of their most difficult times of the year. With 48 percent¹ of our children qualifying for free and reduced lunch statewide, we must consider what happens to these kids when they can’t rely on that meal at school each day. Families that are already struggling to make ends meet face rising grocery bills when the kids are home for the summer. Given Michigan’s strong agricultural sector, we have to ask: Why does hunger exist in a state so agriculturally rich?
The Michigan Farm to Food Bank Program is an innovative response to hunger relief, combining the talents and resources of farmers, the Food Bank Council of Michigan and regional food banks. The program coordinates with area farmers to grow produce specifically for distribution at a food bank within 100 miles, ensuring the produce is made available to low income residents at its peak nutritive value. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of apples make it into Kid’s summer meal programs in this way.
Jalapenos made available through the MI Farm to Food Bank Program. Photo courtesy Jenelle Jagmin.
The Michigan Farm to Food Bank program yields many positive results. By limiting the food miles travelled, this program is cost effective as well as conscientious of its carbon footprint. It bolsters the shelves of the food bank warehouses and provides an additional market for farmers.
Mike Gavin and his brother are 3rd generation growers in West Michigan. They currently farm 200 acres of fruits and vegetables and have been participating in the Farm to Food Bank program since 2010.
“It is a rewarding program to be a part of,” said Mike about Michigan Farm to Food Bank. “Often times food banks are receiving produce that was rejected by a store and is now to the point where it isn’t as fresh. This program allows people in need to have fresh produce.”
Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank in Comstock Park is happy to have a partner in Mike Gavin.
“We have a great relationship with Gavin Orchards who reliably gives us quality product. Food banks rely so heavily on donations, this program really helps us to plan ahead for our mobile pantries,” said Katie Auwers, Food Sourcing Specialist at the Food Bank. “We’ve had a wonderful experience with the program.”
Six of Michigan’s seven major food banks have similar partnerships through the Michigan Farm to Food Bank program. In addition, each regional food bank boasts innovative agricultural solutions to reducing hunger in their area.
“There are some really amazing agricultural programs that have taken root around the state,” says Terri Barker, Food Programs Manager at the Food Bank Council of Michigan. “It is great to see so many farms and farmers dedicated to feeding people who struggle with hunger.”
¹Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) - Free and Reduced Lunch Counts.” CEPI - Free and Reduced Lunch Counts. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.