By Jessica Mozo, farmflavor.com
Did you know one in six Kentuckians, including one in five children, is food insecure? That means they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. And for too many Kentucky residents, hunger is a harsh reality.
“This isn’t a rural or urban problem or even a regional problem,” state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says. “This is a problem for all of Kentucky.”
Fortunately, resources are available for Kentuckians facing hunger.
“There are a lot of great efforts to end hunger in Kentucky, and we’re making progress. Today, one in five children – or 21.9 percent of kids in our state – go hungry, but previously it had been one in four,” says Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks (KAFB). “We’re working to give kids access to school meals and summer meals through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), and we have backpack programs at schools where kids can receive a backpack of easy- to-prepare foods that don’t require a can opener to take home and eat.”
The Kentucky Association of Food Banks is a network of seven regional Feeding America Food Banks that together serve more than 1,000 local food pantries and shelters in every county in Kentucky. KAFB served more than 611,000 Kentuckians in 2015.
Farms to Food Banks
KAFB’s Farms to Food Banks program has made it possible for Kentucky farmers to help alleviate hunger. Funded by a checkoff donation, private donations and an allocation of general fund dollars through the KDA, the program allows the KAFB to purchase discounted food products from farmers across the state – and accept donated produce – which is then distributed to struggling Kentuckians at no cost through area food pantries.
“Farmers have been great partners because they hate to see food wasted, and they often want to donate their excess produce to local food banks. They just don’t have the time to pick and pack it, and they need help getting it from field to food bank,” Sandberg says. “Funding for the Farms to Food Banks program allows their employees to stay in the fields longer and helps offset a farmer’s cost of picking, packing and transporting food to alleviate barriers to donating.”
Kentucky farmers are even eligible to receive a state tax credit equal to 10 percent of the value of edible agricultural products they donate to food banks.
“We are passionate about making food more accessible. It’s unacceptable that in a land with so many blessings that any person would go to bed hungry,” Sandberg says.
Kentucky Hunger Initiative
Those in the agriculture industry realize they are part of the solution to helping feed more than 7 billion people in the world. Commissioner Quarles is making reducing hunger in Kentucky a priority during his time in office, and in 2016, he launched a first-of-its-kind Hunger Initiative that is bringing together farmers, businesses, charitable organizations, faith groups, community leaders, government entities and other Kentuckians to search for ways to fight hunger. “By bringing together the people who grow our food, sell our food and distribute our food, we hope to find novel approaches that could help alleviate the underlying issues of hunger in Kentucky,” Quarles says.
The goal of the Hunger Initiative is to study sources of hunger, identify unique issues affecting different regions of the Commonwealth, and take inventory of resources related to hunger. The KDA is also working to educate farmers about the hunger issue facing Kentucky.
“By educating farmers about the critical need for produce, grain, and meats to be donated or sold to food banks around Kentucky, we are able to help drive up the volume of products being sent to these regional food banks,” says Angela Blank, director of public relations for the KDA. “Agriculturalists continue to be on the forefront of emerging technologies that help make farming more sustainable and efficient. Farmers understand the need to continue to put food on their own table, as well as others’, and they take pride in knowing they are helping combat hunger.”
Help for Those in Need
If you or someone you know is dealing with food insecurity, there is help available. Visit kafb.organd click on “Need Food?” to locate a food pantry in your area. You can also text FOOD to 877-877, and you will get a text message reply with the address of a local meal program or community organization helping with hunger.