Op-Ed

You can table more veggies. State tax form allows earmark for Farms To Food Banks.

By Tamara Sandberg

Is your New Year's resolution to eat more fruits and vegetables? Chances are it should be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Kentuckians are not consuming the recommended amount, which is to fill half of our plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal.

Low-income households consume fewer fruits and vegetables than higher-income households. That helps explain what may seem like a strange contradiction. One in six Kentuckians lacks consistent access to enough food for a healthy, active lifestyle. Yet Kentucky also has the seventh highest obesity rate in the nation.

When a family is forced to make tough choices such as paying for food versus utilities, as are 34 percent of Kentucky's food bank clients, fresh produce can often be the last thing on the shopping list.

Kentucky's fruit and vegetable market has much room for growth. Though surrounding states have similar climate, soil and history of tobacco dependence, Ohio has three times the amount of cropland growing fruits and vegetables, Virginia has nine times as much, and North Carolina has 16 times as much.

The Kentucky Association of Food Banks wants you to know there is an easy way to make a difference in the lives of those in need, while supporting farmers. State taxpayers can donate a portion of their refund to the Farms to Food Banks Trust Fund.

Administered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the fund is intended to provide grants to nonprofit organizations for the distribution of Kentucky-grown surplus agricultural commodities to low-income individuals.

Our Farm to Food Banks program increases consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among struggling Kentuckians while increasing cash flow for farmers. We provide a market for produce that retailers don't want because of minor blemishes or size discrepancies. Farmers are able to recoup losses for products they would not have been able to sell, and healthy food is consumed rather than being plowed under.

Since 2011 we have distributed enough Kentucky-grown produce to fill half a plate full of fruits and vegetables for 4.8 million meals across the commonwealth. Nearly 3 million pounds of fresh, healthy food was consumed by hungry families rather than going to waste. And over 500 Kentucky farmers have benefitted from an average of $950 in increased cash flow.

In recognition of the benefit of the program, Governor Steve Beshear has declared January Farms to Food Banks Month.

Just check the box on line 37 of your tax return to donate a portion of your refund to the Farms to Food Banks Trust Fund. Every dollar donated can help provide enough fruits and vegetables for 5 meals. It's that easy to help ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors have enough healthy food to eat each day.

Tamara Sandberg is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.

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