L&M Farms Inc., operating on 2,000 acres across Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam counties, will provide 432,000 pounds of assorted produce weekly to local food banks under a new federal Coronavirus Farm Assistance program. L&M’s contract is valued at $1.9 million.
The program will help alleviate the pressure food banks have experienced from the crush of people whose breadwinners have lost jobs since the beginning of the coronavirus emergency. Food drops have drawn families by the thousands, including in Palm Coast earlier this month. More than 15 percent of Flagler County’s workforce is now unemployed.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans for the new ‘Farmers to Families Food Box’ program on April 17,” said Melanie Thomas, Flagler County Extension Director. “Just a week later, the USDA invited proposals from those able to supply commodity boxes to non-profit organizations. We began pushing that information out to our agricultural community just as quickly as possible so that those interested could apply, and an award was made by May 8.”
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is partnering with national, regional and local suppliers, whose workforce has been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses, to purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products–and prevent, to the extent possible, the destruction or spoilage of food that would otherwise have been distributed through the market.
The program is purchasing $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 million in a variety of dairy products, $258 million in meat products and $175 million in a combination box of fresh produce, dairy or meat products. Suppliers will package these products totaling $1.2 billion into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need from May 15 through June 30.
L&M Farms applied and is now one of forty awardees in the USDA Southeast Region, which encompasses eight states. L&M Farms will provide 12 truckloads per week, each consisting of 2,400 boxes.
The recipients of the 28,800 weekly boxes are three local agencies: Bread of Mighty in Gainesville, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in Daytona, and Feeding Northeast Florida in Jacksonville. These locations distribute the boxes to smaller food banks, such as Grace Community Food Pantry in Palm Coast, who in turn get them into the hands of local Florida families. Pastor Charles Silano’s Grace Community’s weekend food distributions off Education Way have been drawing upwards of 1,200 families a week.
L&M Farms was approved by the USDA to provide produce May 15 through June 30. The L&M headquarters in East Palatka is the primary packing and distribution point, and the produce is grown both locally and at other L&M locations throughout the Southeast. L&M has also submitted a proposal to continue this delivery route until the end of the year as long as the produce remains available.
“This is a very beneficial program. It matches suppliers – who have been significantly impacted by the closure of many restaurants, hotels and other food service entities – and connects them directly to a need in the community,” said Wendy Mussoline, Flagler County Extension Agent. “It will ensure that all of their produce will be sold, growers will remain economically viable, and those in need during this unique season will have food on the table.”
AMS may elect to extend the period of performance of the contracts, via option periods, dependent upon program success and available remaining funds of up to $3 billion.
UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County is a partnership between State, Federal, and Flagler County governments for the purpose of providing scientific knowledge and expertise to the public. The Extension Office is located at 150 Sawgrass Road, Bunnell.