As the food-insecurity crisis continues, Kentucky growers are stepping in to fill the void.
Last year 371 farmers participated in the state's Farms to Food Banks program, and advocates say a funding boost could help feed more families at a time when many are facing financial hardship, while also financially compensating growers.
Karena Cash, advocacy director for Feeding Kentucky, said during the pandemic more families are relying on food assistance than ever. She said providing nutrient-dense, locally grown produce to households is a top priority.
"We have enough food in this country to feed every single person," Cash asserted. "It's just about finding creative solutions to make sure that families are actually getting the food."
In 2020, Farms to Food Banks provided 4.5 million meals to families in the Commonwealth while paying farmers an average of $2,013 to cover the costs of harvesting, packaging, and transporting donated agricultural products to a food bank or pantry.
Last month, Gov. Andy Beshear signed a proclamation declaring Jan. 28 Hunger Free Day.
Katrina Thompson, executive director of Feeding Kentucky, said the program is funded by a state budget appropriation of $500,000 annually, along with help from private donors and residents who choose to donate a portion of their state tax refund.
But she noted more resources are needed, given the unprecedented level of demand driven by the COVID-19 crisis.
"Our dollars are spread among seven food banks across Kentucky," Thompson explained. "And those provide fresh Kentucky-grown produce that would otherwise go to waste. "
Cash added Feeding Kentucky hopes state lawmakers will boost the program's budget appropriation to $600,000 annually, so more families can access local produce.
"All the money that we get goes directly toward feeding families," Cash stated. "A hundred extra thousand dollars is a hundred extra thousand dollars worth of produce that we can put into the hands of Kentucky families."
More than a half million Kentuckians get groceries or meals from food banks, and one in six households with children experiences food insecurity. The state also has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation among adults ages 50 to 59.