Ky. agriculture commissioner launches hunger task force

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. AP

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles on Thursday launched a statewide initiative, the Kentucky Hunger Task Force. Quarles said he hopes this will lead to a bipartisan strategic plan to help the one in six Kentuckians who go hungry daily, including a fourth of all schoolchildren.

“I feel that in a state with such a strong and rich agriculture tradition, it’s unacceptable that this many Kentuckians are challenged by this issue,” Quarles said in an interview. “I feel that a farm-up approach will be helpful in starting this dialogue.”

The initiative would include farmers, participants in food banks, representatives of groceries, restaurateurs, higher education, church and charitable organizations, and members of state government who understand the social services side of food, including electronic benefit transfers and school lunches.

“This is, to our knowledge, a first-of-its-kind effort to take an inventory of what’s working and what isn’t, look for duplication, and for models that can be scaled up,” Quarles said.

The commission will hold regional meetings across the state to understand differences in hunger from county to county, he said. There is a network of organizations throughout the state that helps funnel food to those in need, but some places have better programs in place than others, he said.

Lexington, which has used grants to fund a Double Dollars program that matches benefits dollars spent at the Lexington Farmers Market, is a leader, he said.

“We hope this initiative eventually develops a strategic plan for whole state, including how to get accurate metrics,” Quarles said.

The data could help justify increased investments in the Farm to Food Banks program, which is funded by the Kentucky General Assembly and supplemented by private donations and tax checkoffs, he said. That program buys “seconds,” fruits and vegetables that are safe to eat but not pretty.

Quarles is very interesting in gardening, having just put one in at the KDA’s offices in Frankfort, and hopes that churches also will want to start gardens that could help feed people in their communities.

“We want this to be a comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck approach, but it’s going to take some time to develop the program,” he said.

Members of the task force include:

▪  Laura Melillo Barnum, executive director of Yum Foundation and Global Community Investment, Yum Brands;

▪  David Beck, executive vice president, Kentucky Farm Bureau;

▪  Warren Beeler, executive director, Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy;

▪  Rodney Booe, pastor, Campbellsville Christian Church;

▪  Danielle Bozarth, programs director, God’s Pantry Food Bank;

▪  Tony Brannon, dean, Hutson School of Agriculture, Murray State University;

▪  Gina Carrington, assistant director of Community Based Services, Cabinet for Health and Family Services;

▪  Mary Courtney, Shelby County farmer;

▪  Nancy Cox, dean, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment;

▪  Valerie Crouch, program manager for school and community nutrition, Kentucky Department of Education;

▪  David Dodd, executive director, National Center for Hospitality Studies, Sullivan University;

▪  Thomas Fern, Kentucky state director, USDA Rural Development;

▪  Jamie Guffey, executive director, Kentucky Poultry Federation;

▪  Bonnie Jolly, executive director, Kentucky Pork Producers;

▪  David Maples, executive vice president, Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association;

▪  Ted Mason, executive director, Kentucky Grocers Association;

▪  Tim McGurk, director of public affairs, Kroger Louisville Division;

▪  Ryan Quarles, Kentucky commissioner of agriculture;

▪  Martin Richards, executive director, Community Farm Alliance;

▪  Brian Riendeau, executive director, Dare to Care;

▪  Tamara Sandberg, executive director, Kentucky Association of Food Banks;

▪  Suzanne Cecil White, Daviess County farmer;

▪  Stephanie Wooten, executive director, GLEAN KY.