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USDA approves Farmers to Families Food Box Program for communities in need

usdaThe USDA approved $1.2 billion for its Farmers to Families Food Box Program to help farmers distribute excess food to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The approval was announced May 8, and initial contracts will run from May 15 through June 30. Contracts were awarded to farms and other food suppliers with lost markets due to hotel, restaurant and other food service industry closures.

Through the program, the USDA is purchasing $461 million in fresh produce, $317 million in dairy products, and $258 million in meat products, and $175 million for combination boxes. Additionally, as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the USDA is authorized to purchase up to $3 billion in produce, dairy and meat products.

The food box program’s contracted suppliers will package goods into consumer-ready boxes for families and deliver them to partnering food banks, community organizations and other nonprofits helping those experiencing food insecurity. Distribution is expected to begin May 15.

“This is a new, innovative approach to provide critical support to American farmers and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We were pleased to see the abundance of interest from both food distributors and nonprofit organizations. Within days, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will begin distributing surplus food—while safeguarding food safety techniques—to communities across the country where it’s needed most.”

Though only 198 farms and food suppliers received contracts in the program’s first phase, the increased demand for agricultural goods is expected to bolster food chain markets across the U.S.

Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, anticipates Virginia farmers will be among those who will benefit from the box program.

“Virginia farms that provide milk, poultry, pork, fruits and vegetables to the program’s contracted processors and distributors will benefit directly because they’ll have a market for their production,” Banks said.

“Any of those types of farms also will benefit indirectly from the program because it will provide greater demand for a portion of farm production. In turn, this should support price stability or possible higher prices for all farms in these sectors and, to a lesser extent, in others.”

augusta free press
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