OMAHA, Neb. – As food banks have struggled to meet soaring demand from people suddenly out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been especially troubling to see farmers have to bury produce, dump milk and euthanize hogs.
Now some states are providing more money to help pay for food that might otherwise go to waste, the U.S. Agriculture Department is spending $3 billion to help get farm products to food banks, and a senator is seeking $8 billion more to buy farm produce for food banks.
“Obviously nobody likes to see waste of good food,” said Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. “And to know that farmers put so much work and money and energy into producing the product. That’s got to be breaking their heart to then have to just dump product like that or just throw it away or plow it under.”
Farmers were left with little choice after the closure of restaurants and schools abruptly ended much of the demand for the food they produced.
Thousands of acres of Florida fruits and vegetables and California's leafy greens have been plowed over or left to rot. Meanwhile, dairy farmers in Vermont, New York and Wisconsin have had to dump millions of gallons of milk. Hog farmers were hit by a drop in demand and the temporary closure of some slaughterhouses, forcing them to euthanize pigs that couldn't be processed into bacon and pork chops.
This has coincided with a spike in demand at food banks, with nearly 39 million people suddenly out of work. In Florida, for example, 12 food banks have had to scramble to increase deliveries from 6 million pounds of food per week to 10 million pounds.
A U.S. Census Bureau survey found that more than 10% of U.S. households reported not being able to get enough food some of the time or often, and a survey for the Data Foundation found that 37% of unemployed Americans ran out of food in the past month.
Thanks to various government and private efforts, at least some of the food that would have been wasted is now being delivered to the people who need it.