May 27th, 2020
Florida has long been known for its sunshine, beaches and citrus groves, but the state also ranks as a national leader in producing cucumbers, squash, bell peppers, peanuts and strawberries. However, according to a report from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, due to the current Covid -19 pandemic, as much as 80 percent of Florida’s produce is going to waste.The Florida Department of Agriculture now estimates that through mid-April, farmers lost $522.5 million of produce. Combined with a spike in state unemployment claims, this loss has resulted in Florida’s food banks experiencing an increase in requests for service, all while farms are stuck with excess food that they can’t get to grocery stores.
To combat this predicament, Florida residents have been pitching-in to deliver produce to local area food banks. Hank Scott, a cucumber grower on Florida’s east coast, invited volunteers from the Society of St. Andrew, a Christian hunger-relief organization, to take as many cucumbers as they could, and distribute them to Orlando area organizations like the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. Volunteers happily filled up their vehicles with the fresh produce. Scott, who donates several million pounds of produce each year in an effort to support the community, has also reached out to other charities to share his freshly harvested crops.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Lake County also found itself with produce to harvest but unable to use as the school was closed. Staff members who volunteered to harvest the small garden were surprised to find that they could donate 64 pounds of fresh tomatoes, beans and melons to the Lake Cares Food Pantry.
In northeastern Florida, six local farm bureaus recently teamed up to buy tens of thousands of pounds of produce from farmers struggling to sell their crops during the pandemic. The collected food – estimated at nearly $40,000 – was divided between organizations in Baker, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties.
All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota and Manatee counties has seen a 72 percent increase from January through March in the amount of produce they are distributing when compared to the same time last year. For the first time ever, the nonprofit also is exploring ways to pick and preserve produce so it can be used in the future.
With Covid-19 continuing to deliver a blow to Florida’s economy, there are rays of sunshine appearing through the clouds. It’s helpful that Florida had a state food recovery program in place for emergencies, along with the efforts of volunteers who have helped transport produce to food pantries, keeping their fellow Floridians from going hungry.