Op-Ed

Farms to Food Banks to end hunger in Kentucky

Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles stood by pallets of donated food at God's Pantry Food Bank in Lexington on Dec. 28. The department delivered over 3,232 pounds of foods donated by employees.
Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles stood by pallets of donated food at God's Pantry Food Bank in Lexington on Dec. 28. The department delivered over 3,232 pounds of foods donated by employees. cbertram@herald-leader.com

In honor of the one in six Kentuckians who lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, the Kentucky Association of Food Banks is recognizing National Nutrition Month. Sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it is a nutrition-education campaign that promotes making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

The 600,000 Kentuckians who receive food from a food bank each year are often forced to use unhealthy coping strategies to feed their families. Ninety-one percent of households we serve report purchasing inexpensive, but unhealthy food, as a way to put food on the table.

More than a third of households served had to water down their food or drinks to make them stretch farther. Diet-related chronic diseases disproportionally impact families facing hunger. Sixty-five percent of households served by a food bank in Kentucky have at least one member with high blood pressure and 41 percent have at least one member with diabetes.

One of the key messages of the National Nutrition Month campaign is to create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite healthful foods. Our Farms to Food Banks program is working to ensure all Kentuckians have access to fresh healthful fruits and vegetables. Kentucky farmers with produce that retailers have rejected because of minor blemishes or size discrepancies are connected with a food bank, such as our member God’s Pantry Food Bank.

The program helps ensure the fruits and vegetables are distributed to our struggling neighbors rather than going to waste in the field.

Since 2011, the program has resulted in nearly 12 million pounds of 28 types of Kentucky-grown produce from over 850 farmers being distributed to struggling Kentuckians in all 120 counties. That is the equivalent of filling half a plate full of fruits and vegetables for 19.5 million meals across the commonwealth.

Support for the program is provided by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farms to Food Banks Trust Fund through an appropriation from the General Assembly, as well as from donations from state taxpayers on their tax returns.

We are proud to be partnering with the American Diabetes Association to distribute educational fliers, sponsored by Passport Health Plan. Families accessing food through a food pantry will receive information on topics such as budget-friendly recipes and swapping less healthy food for better choices.

Kentucky’s General Assembly recently passed unanimously, and the governor signed into law, a measure establishing enhanced immunity from liability for donors of perishable food, as well as for farmers who allow volunteers to gather crops for donation at the end of the harvest season.

We are grateful to the sponsor, Rep. Phillip Pratt, as well as to Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, who worked on the bill as part of his department’s Hunger Task Force. Our families, communities and economy are stronger when everyone has the healthful food and fuel they need to grow and work.

Working together, farmers, nonprofit organizations and government leaders can end the hunger crisis for the hundreds of thousands of hard-working Kentucky households and help them get back on their feet. Together we can solve hunger.

Tamara Sandberg is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, representing seven food banks.

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