A senator’s bill creating a fund to help food banks pay the fixed costs associated with harvesting and processing local food products has yet to pass through the house. If created it could have implications for food aid and food waste.
Virginia’s food banks served about 1 million people each year before the pandemic, but could see 275,000 more people seeking food aid this year due to the pandemic, according to Eddie Oliver the head of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. Feeding America, which tracks hunger in the US predicts almost half a million Virginians will become food insecure due to the pandemic.
Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Richmond) introduced SB 1188 to create the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance Fund. The fund would provide grants to food banks to pay farmers for the costs of harvesting food that otherwise would be considered excess. Agricultural producers will often plough or dispose of crops because the cost of harvesting and distributing food outweighs the fiscal benefits of donating it. This was a major feature of harvests during the pandemic, when food buyers supplying restaurants and school cafeterias exited the market.
The USDA says $161 billion of food goes uneaten each year. The majority is at the consumer level but 30% of food waste happens at the farm level.
“A bill like this will just make it a lot easier for us to diversify our food sources,” said Oliver. “Especially nutritious foods like produce and dairy that is grown and processed here locally in Virginia.”
The bill could become an important fixture of the charitable food aid sector. Oliver says food banks are probably going to rely on farmers more and more because businesses have less excess food to donate these days.
“Retailers and manufacturers are getting a lot more efficient,” said Oliver. “So there are just fewer donations, food donations overall that we have access to.”