The US Department of Agriculture announced an agreement Wednesday that will provide funding to Connecticut to help feed people who are food insecure by supporting local farmers and food distribution organizations throughout the state.
The agreement – which was the second made with a state by the USDA thus far under the new Local Food Purchase Assistance program funded by the American Rescue Plan – was announced at Connecticut Foodshare’s facility in Wallingford. US Sen. Richard Blumenthal and US Reps. Joe Courtney and Jahana Hayes were on hand, along with USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt and state Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt.
Moffitt said the USDA was excited to partner with Connecticut in addressing food insecurity and was thankful for the state’s early commitment to the Local Food Purchase Assistance (LFPA) Cooperative Agreement. She also said she is looking forward to working with more states and tribal governments to strengthen local partnerships and ensure that underserved communities have access to locally sourced, healthy food.
Hurlburt said the funds received through the LFPA cooperative agreement will enable the state to continue its efforts to bring locally grown food to the tables of underserved neighbors.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut actively engaged in emergency feeding programs with a focus on the inclusion of CT Grown products and this offers an opportunity to expand upon those efforts,” Hurlburt said.
Jason Jakubowski, President and CEO of Connecticut Foodshare, said he’s grateful for the help from the state and federal governments.
“We are excited to increase the amount of nutritious Connecticut-grown produce available to the people we serve and to build new partnerships with emerging farmers as well as expand existing relationships,” Jakubowski said.
Foodshare reports that over 400,000 people are struggling with food insecurity in Connecticut, including over 100,000 children.
According to Monica Obrebski, Foodshare’s Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, $850,000 of the $2.6 million will go to Foodshare to help the organization better connect with both emerging local farmers and established farms, as well as the existing network of about 500 small food distribution organizations throughout the state, including food pantries, soup kitchens, and similar.
Further, Obrebski explained, the funds are being provided to not only improve the logistics and communication behind the complicated local supply chain that puts food on the shelves of soup kitchens throughout the state, but also to stimulate the local grower economy. Foodshare will be using the funds to buy local growers’ unsold food at market prices.
How Will It Work?
At the moment, farmers sell to the public at their own stores or at farmer’s markets, and in bulk to grocery stores. But, in general, some of the food expires before it is sold either at the source or by retailers.
That’s where Connecticut Foodshare comes in with its existing Retail Rescue program.
Rather than waste the food, Obrebski said grocery stores are already freezing produce, dairy, and meat for pickup by trained volunteers. The volunteers check the food’s temperature and either bring it back to Foodshare’s facilities in Wallingford and Bloomfield, or they sometimes bring it directly to food pantries. The idea, Obrebski said, is to make more of those connections with smaller stores, growers, and others so that more of the food can reach more places where it is needed.
Foodshare is also managing the logistics behind the use of trained volunteers who pick up and deliver food to the roughly 500 small food distributors around the state.
Obrebski said they are calling the new effort “Farm to Neighbors,” and the program has two parts:
• For established farms, Connecticut Foodshare will use the funds to buy food from the farms at the market rate. The plan is to expand the number of participating farmers and the food will flow from farm to Foodshare to the pantries.
• For emerging farms, there’s a web-based system called Meal Connect, which was created by the nonprofit hunger-relief organization Feed America, where emerging farms can post information about available, unsold food that they have to give away. Local food pantries can then log in to Meal Connect and claim available food based on those posts, with volunteer pickup provided by Connecticut Foodshare. The food flows directory from farm to pantry, utilizing Meal Connect to make the connection.
“These farmers will be able to distribute directly to agencies that are helping fight food insecurity in their communities,” Obrebski said. “We have never utilized these farmers previously. These farmers will be paid market rate [which is the price they would get at a farmer’s market].”
Obrebski said they are hoping to increase the connections and communication between farmers and the local distribution agencies so that they will be able to manage the transportation of the food between each other.
The program, Obrebski said, should also create opportunities for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and related expenses through local, community partnerships requiring less travel.
“We’re excited to start running with this program and want to take this opportunity to encourage farmers of all sizes from around the state to connect with us and get involved,” Obrebski said. “We are not following the traditional model of going with the lowest bidder, and there is ample opportunity for partnership at every level.”
For a list of all of Foodshare’s partners by town, check out their annual report and scroll down to “Partner Programs.”