We need to be able to supply fresh, healthy food to Floridians and not rely too heavily on foreign imports
As a lifelong agriculturist, farmer and the current manager at L&M Farms of North Florida, I have seen firsthand the benefits of partnering with the Feeding Florida network to provide nutritious produce to our neighbors in need.
During a recent visit to Tallahassee with Executive Director Robin Safley and her team, I gained a better understanding of the work that Feeding Florida does and the vital role Florida farmers play in helping to address food insecurity.
Allow me to explain.
Since the pandemic and now with the war in Ukraine, supply chain issues within agriculture — especially those related to fresh food and vegetables — are a very real thing. Every day, consumers face the reality that every grocery item they are used to seeing on the shelves simply may not be available.
A quick look at the headlines in Europe and you can see how they are limiting purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store due to supply issues. This food insecurity is problematic and in some parts of our state (in rural communities, for example) it can present an existential threat.
When farmers have extra produce in their fields (which can happen for a variety of market-driven reasons), the cost to pull that food out of the field, pack it and ship it can be tremendous and here’s why: Nearly everything we grow must be hand-harvested. That requires a lot of labor and the costs to pick, pack and ship can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
And in a narrow-margin business like farming, where profits are often minimal, attempting to do so simply does not make good business sense for farmers.
Fortunately, our government has chosen to invest in programs that support local Florida farmers and one such way is through a Feeding Florida network partnership that pays for what is known as “pick and pack” fees when growers have excess produce. This ensures Florida farmers don’t lose a crippling amount of money if they have excess produce that they can’t sell, or if it’s simply not affordable to pay for the cost of harvesting due to low market prices.
Why is this important?
Because we need to be able to supply fresh, healthy food to Floridians and not rely too heavily on foreign imports of fruits and vegetables. Florida has one of the most diverse specialty crop industries in the country.
With about 300 commodities being grown here, along with one of the longest growing seasons, we can feed people with food largely produced right here in our state. We grow and produce something that the more of it you consume, the healthier you are likely to be. What other industry can say that?
The Feeding Florida network can help us offset the fixed costs involved in getting excess crops from the field into food banks with this very smart investment from the Legislature. This is a vital way that this partnership helps keep Florida’s farmers in business and growing for years to come.
In addition to helping reduce food insecurity and our reliance on imported fruits and vegetables, by working with the Feeding Florida food banks, we can also help introduce people to the fantastic products grown right here in our state. We believe that by helping to supply people with our fresh and nutritious products during their time of need, we may be creating new customers who will continue to purchase fresh-from-Florida products.
The partnership between Florida farmers and Feeding Florida food banks is essential to addressing food insecurity and ensuring access to fresh, nutritious produce. By introducing people to the fantastic products grown right here in our state, we can support the local agricultural industry. I believe that by continuing to work together, we can make a real difference in the lives of those who need it most.