food banksIf farming has one overarching purpose, it’s to feed people – especially those in need of food. Today, through innovative partnerships with food banks, Missouri farmers and agricultural businesses are feeding the hungry. Hunger impacts Missourians in both rural and urban areas, says Scott Baker, director of Feeding Missouri, the state’s food bank coalition.

There are six food banks in Missouri that warehouse and distribute food to more than 1,500 community feeding programs. “We have recently been focused on providing more fresh produce, proteins and dairy,” Baker says. That creates many opportunities to partner with Missouri’s farming community. “Our first and primary goal is sourcing these products from Missouri farmers,” he says.

A Produce Promise

Farm groups, farmers and gardeners spurred a fast increase in the volume of produce distributed by Ozarks Food Harvest, a Springfield food bank.

“Twenty-five percent of what we now distribute is fresh produce. That volume has doubled in just the past few years,” says Christine Temple, Ozarks Food Harvest’s communications coordinator.

Missouri’s Produce Promise campaign receives finances specifically earmarked for produce; each donated dollar buys seven pounds of fresh produce for state food banks. Produce donations have been on the rise because of partnerships with local farmers and gardeners. Land donated to Ozarks Food Harvest includes 76 established 4-foot-by- 16-foot raised beds and two high tunnel greenhouses.

“Since our Full Circle Gardens program started in 2014, we’ve grown and harvested nearly 70,000 pounds of produce from Ozarks Food Harvest’s garden and our partner farms and gardens,” says Temple.

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food banksLindsay Lopez, who directs The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri in Columbia, says that the operation focuses on growing partnerships with farmers and gardeners with properties of all sizes.

“Huffstutter Orchards in New Franklin donated 1,000 pounds of apples last year,” she says. “We encourage gardeners to ‘plant a row’ to donate to their local food bank. Several of our partner food pantries have community gardens, and our partnerships with local farmers, gardeners and farm groups are a win-win for everyone involved.”

Bulking Up Protein

Protein is one of the costliest items for food banks, and one creative partnership with farm groups helped food banks stock more protein. Missouri was one of five states to pilot the Invest an Acre program in 2016. Sponsors included the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, ADM, Monsanto and Feeding America. Missouri grain farmers donated proceeds from an acre’s worth of production, with funds used to purchase and process Missouri-grown hogs into 1-pound packages of ground pork stocked at food banks. Monsanto matched one $10,000 donation from farmers connected to Marion County Farm Bureau for a total of $20,000 in ground pork.

food banksEgg donations are also on the rise, which means pantries are now offering whole dozens instead of half-dozens, according to Temple at Ozarks Food Harvest, which has received more than six million eggs from an egg distribution center in Springfield.

Agricultural groups spearhead food drives and awareness campaigns. Missouri Farmers Care, a farmer-owned cooperative, helped sponsor the Drive to Feed Kids to aid the nearly one in five Missourians who are food insecure.

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That is just one more innovative way Missouri farms and farm businesses are continuing the tradition of gleaning and sharing their harvests with neighbors.