Agricultural Partnerships: Connecting Farmers to Food Banks
By: Erin Haafke with Tom Mainzer
In Pennsylvania, there are more than 52,000 farms spanning over 7.3 million acres across the state. With this abundance of resources, there is no reason anyone should be struggling with hunger. Yet, more than two million Pennsylvanians are struggling with hunger every day, and nearly 500,000 of those hungry Pennsylvanians are children. Though many of us may not realize the grave disparities that exist in our own communities, people struggle with hunger in every county and congressional district in Pennsylvania. They could be our neighbors, kids in our children's classes – the possibilities go on.
The issue of food security requires various partnerships and collaborations across a range of stakeholders to provide increased access to fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, protein, and grains to the families who need it most. Feeding Pennsylvania, a state partner association of Feeding America, represents the nine Feeding America member food banks located in Pennsylvania. This representation allows the organization to promote and aid their member food banks in securing food and other resources to reduce hunger and food insecurity across the state while also providing a shared voice on the issues of hunger and food access within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Thanks to relationships in the agriculture community, Feeding Pennsylvania's food banks are able to offer a diverse range of food to our neighbors in need while supporting local farmers, processors, and distributors.
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) was designed to support Pennsylvania's agricultural industry statewide by reducing waste of surplus product, supporting local farms, and supplying Pennsylvanians at risk of hunger with more nutritious food. PASS provides an efficient mechanism for Pennsylvania's agricultural industry to donate safe, wholesome food products while being reimbursed for the costs involved in harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting these foods. Without PASS, these food products would likely otherwise be left to rot in the field, plowed under, dumped, or landfilled.
PASS funding is used to procure and distribute several dozen different types of products produced locally in Pennsylvania. Examples of these products include apples, asparagus, broccoli, butter, cabbage, cheese, chicken, corn, cucumbers, eggs, green beans, ground beef, lettuce, milk, peaches, pears, pork, potatoes, squash, strawberries, tomatoes, yogurt, and zucchini. In the 2022-2023 fiscal year, over two million pounds of produce, nearly one million pounds of eggs and meat products, and over 825,000 pounds of dairy products were sourced through the PASS program in Pennsylvania. Because of this program, about 1.1 million households were served nutritious local products from Pennsylvania.
Thirteen local, charitable food distributors procure food from PASS vendors to help feed low-income Pennsylvanians in need of food assistance in all sixty-seven counties. These distributors acquire foods from Pennsylvania agricultural producers, packers, and processors by using state funding provided for the PASS program. Working with more than 2,700 local charitable partners, including food pantries, soup kitchens, feeding programs, and shelters, these distributors play an integral role in assuring nourishing food is widely available to hungry Pennsylvanians across the commonwealth.
Since its inception in 2015, the PASS program has continued to expand. The program reached a milestone this year by partnering with over one-hundred vendors. In fact, 103 vendors participated in the program this year with twenty-seven of those vendors being first-time participants; in other words, 26% of total PASS vendors during the 2022-2023 fiscal year were first-time participants. If you would like to become involved in the pass program as a vendor, note the ways you can participate below:
- Contract Planting
Through contract planting, you can work with Feeding Pennsylvania and your regional food bank to plan a portion of your production to be donated to the charitable food system. This would include the product and amount to be donated, as well as any associated costs eligible to be covered by PASS.
- Surplus Items at Harvest
Do you have surplus product? Any excess product at the end of the season can also be procured through the PASS program. If the product is in acceptable condition, we can work together to determine if there is a need.
- Value-Added Products
Items such as dairy products, meat, eggs, and shelf-stable items using Pennsylvania-sourced ingredients are much-needed items at food banks and their agencies. These types of products are also eligible to utilize PASS funds.
For more information about the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System, contact Director of Agricultural Partnerships at Feeding Pennsylvania via email at email@example.com