Farmers across Florida work tirelessly to grow food for the nation and world, but with the help of FarmShare, they’re also feeding those who are hungry in their own backyard.
“FarmShare was founded in 1991, after our CEO had gone to a local farmers market and watched farmers dump truckloads of imperfect produce into a landfill. She thought there had to be a way to put it to good use,” says Stephen Shelley, COO of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. “We’ve turned that concept where we’re now getting the cull’s from locals farmers – produce that is imperfect for grocery stores – and giving it free of charge to people who need it in Florida.”
Shelley adds that the food is distributed directly through them or one of their more than 2,000 partner agencies, including churches, soup kitchens and more. Per year, FarmShare moves about 52 million pounds of food.
Initially, FarmShare was located at the Florida City farmers market, and the organization today still remains in good esteem with them, as well as the Pompano and Quincy farmers markets. Shelley says these connections have been very helpful, as it not only gives them a physical home with water and electricity, but it allows them to be right there with the farmers, which makes it easier for them to donate fresh produce. FarmShare reacquired space on the Florida City market last year. The market was damaged by Hurricane Wilma and repairs were just recently completed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“The relationships with farmers themselves has been the key to our model,” Shelley says. “It’s a benefit to the farmers, too, because they have to pay dump fees for landfills, and with us, they get a tax deduction equal to two times the cost of goods sold. So if the market is low that year, and they’re donating a lot of produce, they can carry that benefit over to future profitable years.”
Shelley says that although fresh produce is what makes them unique among other food banks, FarmShare also provides other goods, including canned goods, rice and more. People can obtain food through three distribution methods, including the agency model where other agencies pick up from FarmShare and then distribute the food; community distribution, where a semitruck is loaded with food and delivered in a specific community; and drop sites, which are larger than typical food banks with the capacity to receive and distribute truckloads of food.
“Last year, out of 67 counties, we distributed food in 64 counties in some capacity,” Shelley says.
Shelley says that FarmShare’s goal is to expand into west-central Florida, so they’ll have a presence in all of the state’s major regions. And they’re always on the lookout for more farmer partnerships.
“We’re constantly on the lookout for additional farmers and wholesalers to provide product,” Shelley says. “The more partners you have, the more food you can acquire and the more people you can feed.”