State to give excess food from farmers, ranchers to families in need

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is trying to address a frustrating imbalance in the state’s food supply: While farmers are wasting crops due to a huge drop in demand, food banks are overwhelmed by a surge of hungry families.

The state is now ratcheting up a program targeting both issues, taking excess production from farmers and ranchers, and re-directing it to food banks, which will package and distribute the food to families in need.

“We want to address that mismatch,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. “To work with the ranchers, to work with the farmers to connect them to the food banks, and do so in a way that jumpstarts our capacity to deliver nutritious food.”

Newsom said the state’s goal is to deliver 20 million pounds of food each month through the initiative, packing boxes with fresh produce, meat, dairy and dried goods that could feed a family for three to four days at a time. Food will be sent from farmers to the state’s central food bank, then re-distributed to families by 41 regional organizations across the state.

A view of the cows at Frank Konyn Dairy Inc., on April 16, 2020 in Escondido, California. The farm is operated and owned by Frank and Stacy Konyn who are lifelong farmers, however, the Konyn’s income has dropped 40 percent since the coronavirus pandemic. The farm took a financial hit since the restaurants are not open but they have not let go of any employees since the cows still need to be fed, milked and medical attention. (Photo: ARIANA DREHSLER/AFP via Getty Images)

Newsom said 128 farmers and ranchers have already enrolled in the program, and about 200 others have spoken with the state about getting involved. In some cases the food will be provided as a donation, in others, the suppliers will be compensated.

The initiative will be paid for through a combination of federal and state funds, and through fundraising by individuals and charitable groups, according to the governor.

The “Farm to Family” program already exists in the state on a smaller scale, so the framework for distributing and organizing the food is ready to go, officials said.

Even in typical years, food producers sometimes end up with excess supply. But the amount of food now being wasted has ballooned, as farmers and ranchers face a “jaw-dropping reduction” in demand of roughly 50%. Typically reliable food buyers such as schools and restaurants have been forced to cancel or greatly reduce their orders during the state’s stay-at-home order.

At the same time, a tanking economy has forced more families to head to their local food banks — Newsom said banks around the state are seeing an increase in demand of nearly 75%.

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