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Kentucky Officials Urge Expanding 'Farms to Food Banks', Upgrading Pantries

Kentucky New Era

More than 300 Kentucky farmers participated in the state's Farms to Food Banks program last year, and at a recent virtual rally, state officials said they are looking to expand the program to help combat rising food insecurity.

Ryan Quarles, the state's commissioner of agriculture, said continued funding for Farms to Food Banks, along with other measures, will ensure Kentucky households have access to locally grown produce.

"This money is used to buy up produce from Kentucky farmers that would otherwise not be harvested, that would otherwise rot in the field," Quarles explained. "And get it into the hands of our food banks."

In 2021, farmers across 57 counties provided food for more than five million meals through the program. According to Feeding Kentucky, farmers were paid on average around $2,000 to cover the cost of harvesting, packaging and transporting donated agricultural products to a local food bank or pantry.

Quarles also pointed out the state plans to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to help upgrade food pantries.

"We know that our food pantries are not created equally across our state," Quarles acknowledged. "There's at least a thousand of them. And so we want to create a mini grant program with a one-time million-dollar ask, so each food pantry can buy a refrigerator, upgrade shelving, etcetera."

Katrina Thompson, executive director of Feeding Kentucky, said the need for food comes at a time when many Kentuckians, especially those in the western part of the state, continue to seek long-term shelter and other basic necessities in the aftermath of the December tornadoes.

"We've had displaced families who don't have a stove or are living with other family members, living in hotels," Thompson observed. "We're really just working with nonperishable foods right now, getting those out to the food banks and out to the pantries."

A recent census survey found nationwide, nearly 23 million people either "sometimes" or "often" did not have enough to eat. Around 200 million people said their household experienced a loss in income, making it more difficult to purchase food.