Imperfect goods are perfectly good

Story and Photo by Amanda Ferguson Sears

In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that nearly 13 percent of U.S. households experienced food insecurity. Estimates are that one in every six Kentuckians is food insecure. One in seven Kentuckians use food banks in their area and 91 percent of Kentucky food bank clients purchase unhealthy food to feed their family. In Kentucky, 67 percent of households served have had to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities. 

Meanwhile, farmers often have imperfect or excess vegetables that they are unable to sell. Unfortunately we consumers are a fickle bunch who don’t want anything less than perfect, which can make it hard on farmers. Even though the produce may not look perfect, it usually tastes just fine. And it’s certainly just as nutritious! Overproduction can be just as problematic. Even if they have wonderful fruits and veggies, they can only sell so much. The blessing of abundance is often accompanied by the curse of deciding what to do with it.

Kentucky is very fortunate to have a program that addresses both of these problems. The Farms to Food Banks program purchases produce that would otherwise be thrown out and gives it to food banks throughout Kentucky. The program was formed in 2001 when the seven Feeding America food banks in Kentucky realized how powerful their collaboration could be helping the effort to eradicate hunger in Kentucky. In 2011, the program was implemented statewide. Since then, 800 farmers have participated in this program and more than 15 million pounds of fresh produce has been purchased.

When most people think of food banks, nonperishable items such as canned goods are probably what first comes to mind. Many people may not realize that many food banks also take and give out fresh produce. The Farm to Food Banks program has tripled the amount of fresh produce available at those food banks. 

The program accepts 28 different crops that are commonly grown by Kentucky farmers. Some, such as blackberries, are not accepted because they need refrigeration and not all food banks are equipped for that. The program also purchases eggs from local producers. Eggs need to be clean and packaged in new cartons. There is no minimum quantity that must be delivered to the food banks.

In 2017, more than 3.5 million pounds of food were distributed to Kentuckians in need. Nearly 400 farmers were involved. The program reimburses farmers for the cost of picking, packaging, and transporting their number-two-grade produce. Pricing is determined by what the produce is selling for at the auctions in the state. In 2017, the average amount paid to each farm was $1,700.  

This program ensures that good food is not wasted and hungry people receive healthy food! It is a match made in heaven!

For more information on Farms to Food Banks, visit feedingky.org.

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