Farm Food Facts

Feeding America Tackles Hunger During The COVID-19 Pandemic

June 16, 2020 USFRA Episode 81
Farm Food Facts
Feeding America Tackles Hunger During The COVID-19 Pandemic
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Feeding America Tackles Hunger During The COVID-19 Pandemic
Jun 16, 2020 Episode 81
USFRA

Anne Swanson, VP of Feeding America, and Carrie Calvert, Managing Director and Government Relations of Feeding America, join us today on Farm. Food. Facts. They describe how foodbanks are working closely with farmers to secure food to those in need during these drastic and unprecedented times.

Show Notes Transcript

Anne Swanson, VP of Feeding America, and Carrie Calvert, Managing Director and Government Relations of Feeding America, join us today on Farm. Food. Facts. They describe how foodbanks are working closely with farmers to secure food to those in need during these drastic and unprecedented times.

Phil:

Farm Food Facts. Where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for Wednesday, June 17th, 2020. I'm your host, Phil Lempert. This is probably the most serious topic we can discuss hunger in America, especially these times during the pandemic that we were all living with with us is Carrie Calvert, VP of government relations, agriculture and nutrition, and Anne Swanson, VP strategic produce initiatives, both from feeding America and in Carrie. Welcome to Farm Food Facts.

Anne:

Thank you so much for having us here today. We're happy to be here.

Phil:

So I want to set the stage a bit, um, of, of everything that's going on. Um, so according to refed, um, they indicate that 72 billion pounds of safe, wholesome food does not make it to the kitchen table every year in our country, 52 billion pounds of food from manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants end up in landfills. Another 20 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables are not harvested on farms or left and fields to be plowed under feeding America. Thank you. Rescues 3.5 billion pounds of food every year and provides it to people in need. Uh, Carrie, let me start with you. How do we get that 3.5 billion pounds of food up to 70 billion pounds of food?

Carrie:

That is such a tough question. And I'm lucky to have my colleague and her with me too. Uh, Hey, give us the answer to that tough question. Mmm. But I thought first I'd start with, um, setting the stage of what food insecurity looks like right now. And, um, you know, how many people were in need prior to COVID-19, um, despite a pretty low unemployment, um, let's say in February of this year, uh, about 37 million Americans were food insecure, which means that, um, at some point during the year, they didn't know where their next meal was coming from our, uh, 200 food banks and 60,000, um, food pantries, meal programs and soup kitchens that we work with provide food assistance to many of those that are food insecure. And many of those people also are able to access federal nutrition programs like snap and school meals. And those all play such an important role and working together to help meet the need since the impact of COVID-19 and, you know, an increase to over 40 million people filing for unemployment insurance. Uh, our network has seen drastically increased. I mean, most food banks are reporting that need is double what they fall last year at the same time. And they also, um, you know, when we look at how long we think this will continue, we're estimating that another 17 million people on top of the 37 million are going to be facing food insecurity, which really makes it so critically important and helping to meet the needs.

Phil:

So, Carrie, you know, we also have the TV reports that you would have miles and miles of cars driving up to food banks throughout the nation. Um, there, there probably wasn't, you know, one state that wasn't hit, um, that number one, um, number two, um, is we're, we're facing higher food prices than ever before, even though the BLS report came out and it showed 2.6% rise in food prices that really didn't have much to do with the closures of, of factories, um, the closure of our borders. So we didn't have a lot of, you know, imports coming in. So a lot of people are predicting higher food prices. Um, certainly, you know, the government has said we're in a recession. Um, so we're, we're going to see even more people, um, that are, that are hungry and in need. And we are seeing a lot of retailers, um, that you all are working with, you know, Publix, for example, I'm in Florida, you know, trying to, to do their share and we're seeing other retailers throughout the whole country. So as, as you're saying, you know, probably another 17 million people are going to be effected, how, how do we get, and maybe this is, you know, the, the part where we get an involved here, how do we get that? You know, 72 billion pounds of safe, wholesome food in the hands of our hungriest and, and certainly in, in, uh, drastic time of need going from this point forward, yes, we've had problems because of COVID-19. But every indication that I'm hearing that I'm seeing is it's going to get worse before it gets better. Anne how do we fix this?

Anne:

Well, I wish I had a solution, um, but I can start by saying that it takes everybody working together, uh, across our network, across our nation. Mmm. I can speak a little bit about some of the innovative things we've been seeing with the ag industry, but just to put some perspective on this, as we move, um, on a normal annual basis, we're moving about 66 to 70% fresh and frozen products across our country to those in need. And, um, a lot of people think of food banking as kind of a shelf stable sort of situation. And we do supply a lot of shelf, stable food as well. But, um, if you think about that, our supply chain is it's pretty well optimized. Um, just like the regular food systems in our countries. So when something, um, a pandemic such as this has such a big impact, it really puts a huge stress on our members, um, to do what they normally do. And then on top of that to move additional food. So I can speak a little bit more to some of those innovations and some of those partnerships.

Phil:

So yeah, let's, let's talk about those innovations. Uh, but before we do that, what are the messages that you both would like to get out two supermarkets to consumers? I mean, what, what help do you need? Um, is it volunteers? Is it money? I mean, how do we, how do we fixed, um, this, this issue and this problem?

Carrie:

Well, I think there's a role for everyone to play here, the federal government. I mean, I think what's unique about COVID-19 and the pandemic we're facing right now is that not only do you have so many people in need, but our food industry is also drastically impacted. You know, if over 50% of consumers were we're, um, eating meals away from home and the, you know, consumer facing food service business, where is all that food going, right? That is a huge correction in the food supply chain that needs to happen. And margins are so tight with food services with farmers and with retailers, but that is not an easy shift. Um, certainly it's hard for our food banks to be able to repack all of this bulk food. So I'd say there's a role for the federal government to play and providing resources and funding to try to repack this food so that it can be provided to people in need.

Carrie:

I think there's a role for 'em, you know, uh, average people across the country, retailers, other corporations to volunteer. Many of our food banks have then relying on the assistance of the national guard, but as those deployments wind down or they're needed to help with, um, community on vest, uh, they're left with, uh, there's still a huge need of volunteers to help pack and distribute all of the food that they're getting out the door. So I think there's a role for all of these things, um, to play. And I, to think I worry about our retail sector. I mean, we have such a huge, um, hugely efficient, Mmm, food economy in this country. I know we're talking about inefficiency and part of this, but by and large America's food system is safe, secure, and affordable. And really that has had such a huge impact on the growth of our nation.

Carrie:

You know, food security really plays such a key role in that. Um, but as I said, retail margins are tight. Food budgets are one of the things are things to be cut when times are tight and you lose your job. So we really worry about, um, the, of the food industry Mmm. Broadly, and think some of the federal resources such as increasing snap benefits would play a pretty powerful role. USDA has been rolling out, um, online pilots and a bunch of States so that people can purchase food online. I think that'll do a lot to help bolster our retail industry as they yeah. Try to recover from COVID-19 their labor costs have gone up and they're seeing some supply shortages as well. I will definitely turn to my wiser counterpart in terms of all things operational. And so talk about some of the innovations they've been doing with the food industry to redirect some of the food.

Anne:

I would say that one, since COVID has hit we've, we've had just an immense amount of outpouring of support hold from, uh, public and private corporations and individuals, uh, you know, asking what can they do to help. And, um, so first and foremost, we're really looking at ways we can continue to partner with, um, these, these, these people, um, people such as a freight providers, people such as, um, they have capacity for who learns a trucking Mmm. Technologies. These are all, there's a lot of experts out there, and these are the, these are the experts that we will be leaning on to help us. Um, like I said, even in a normal, uh, year, but especially now during popup. And what's been really interesting is even though there's been a decline in retail donations, it's, which it makes up a huge amount of our, uh, of our donations to our food bank members.

Anne:

We rely a lot on the ag industry and, uh, we rely heavily on produce, uh, farmers and growers and Packers, um, and as well as protein and dairy farms. And one of the things that's really interesting is in a normal and a normal operation, our food banks would acquire donations from farmers and these donations come in large bins, a lot of field bends. We get a lot of that type of a sizing. And, um, that's very different from the retail recovery where everything's small and packed and easy to distribute sizes. So one of the challenges we've had with COVID is the lack of volunteers that are available. And the social distancing protocols basically have wiped out our ability to repack potatoes and apples and onions. And I mean, you name it. And so we've really worked quickly, the network and the food banks, I've worked quickly with our, uh, rower and packer partners.

Anne:

People have been looking for ways to keep their labor I'm employed. And so they've set up the packing sheds have set up path lines to help pack to smaller sizes. So apples from bans into bags, um, there's been a 250,000 tons of potatoes were offered. Uh, I mean, what are we going to do? It's from 50,000 tons of potatoes and these are coming in unwashed, right? These are not coming in side since that we can easily distribute. So we've had tremendous support pro bono support to wash and to pack, uh, these, these products for us. And it is, it is incredible what the industry has done, um, and what they're doing. And, and I hope that going forward, we will continue to innovate on and think about how do we move to a smaller pack size? How did we get efficiency with what we do today?

Phil:

So you, you know, you mentioned, um, what's going on with the potato situation. What are some other examples around the country that have really impressed you, um, and, and been innovative, uh, to help feed all these people.

Anne:

Another example would be, um, in our dairy, uh, industry and also in the, in the, in the meat industry, are we call it protein. Um, so for example, on our, on the protein side, uh, we've had a tremendous uptick in donation from the food service channels, because as you know, a lot of the food that's, that's being wasted right now, I hate to use that word, right. But that food is, is, was really directed for our food service channels. And, um, so these come once again in large pack sizes, but, uh, we we've had producers willing to repack for us. Um, and the other thing that's really interesting is we have established USDA clean rooms across our network in key food banks in areas across the country, such as Oklahoma. Um, and so it's important. We've, we've been innovating Mmm. How to accept more donations for, for quite some time.

Anne:

And so I think what's really interesting is a lot of the generous funding that has been available to us has allowed us to, in some cases, I'm kind of expedite those opportunities. I mean, our plan is to triple the amount of clean rooms that we have available across the country. And Mmm. You know, people don't understand, I don't think just how, how innovative food banks can be and how, um, how much on the front end of operations they want to be, because we recognize that in order to hit this enormous goal of feeding everyone across America, we have got to, it's a throughput issue, a lot of it's capacities. So, uh, we're, we're really forward thinking and innovating, um, in areas such as Cleveland

Phil:

and Carrie, when you look at the nation, um, and the state of the nation right now, as it relates to hunger. Um, and you've, you've said, you know, very clearly that you're just being another 17 million people, um, might go hungry and you're gearing up for that. What else are you seeing that that's keeping you up at night?

Carrie:

Uh, gosh, where, where, where to start? Um, I think one of the, one of the things that's really concerning is with the uncertainty around the school and will they be able to open this fall? Will they not be able to, you know, we forget how critically important the national school lunch program is to ensure that children have access to nutritious food, that they need to thrive. And 22 million children receive free and reduced price lunch or breakfast through the program. And, you know, schools have done a remarkable job in trying to shift and provide, um, to go meal pickup at schools, but it's not reaching all of the kids in need. And, uh, I think that is big challenge. I mean, just in terms of the childcare issue alone, I know that's going to be a big challenge for working parents as the economy, um, in States tries to reopen. Yeah. We're heading summertime, which is always a challenge to find affordable childcare for many of the working families that we're serving. Um, I think the normal summer camp at the Y might have a hard time operating as we try to keep, um, numbers low and socially distance as the economy opens back up. Um, so we really, um, I think it is very unique to COVID-19 to see the impact that school closures across the country have had on Mmm, children and their families that are facing food insecurity due to COVID-19.

Phil:

So I remember some years ago, I'm working very closely with Michelle Obama on the chef's move to school program and traveling around the country with her and with Sam Cass and visiting some of these schools. And what I found shocking is as you point out for a lot of these kids, um, that was their only meal that day that they had to survive on, on that school lunch program. And then when we started to see some other programs around the country, like the backpack program and so on, um, that there, there was another problem that yes, they could get a backpack full of food on Friday to take them over the weekend, but frankly, as they were walking home, uh, there might be another kid who stole the backpack from them. So parents that were available, um, had to go to the school with them to, to protect that food, uh, from getting home. And, and when we, when we talk about these kinds of programs, I don't think that the average American consumer really understands how difficult it is, uh, for a lot of these people to, to get a one good meal a day,

Carrie:

right. It really is a challenge. And I think, um, you know, one that you're right, the average person may not be aware how difficult it is just to access enough food to meet your family's needs. Mmm. Certainly, um, you know, the pandemic that we're in has a way of humanizing need Mmm. You know, in the media and throughout the country. And we are seeing a heightened understanding of the impact that food insecurity and hunger Hatland communities, we just, the school issue alone know Congress, um, provided, um, authorization so that USBA can give a pandemic EDT card to families. Well, the authorization for that expires June 30th. And so, you know, if the Senate's not going to take up that legislation prior to June 30th, um, you know, just when the program is getting up and running, it's going to have to stop. And you know, that one of the innovative things that we thought was pretty helpful about this USDA flexibility that they have for the pandemic is that Mmm, it, uh, it gives families a safe way to have the fund okay.

Carrie:

Would normally be provided in the form of school lunch to their children added to an EBT card. So they can safely shop at a grocery store. We're ordering that food, um, you know, in grocery pickup or something like that. So, um, yeah, I think these things are, I mean, federal programs can be hard to understand for, for me and others that deal with them on a regular basis, let alone for the general public, especially when there's, um, so many concerns concerning things in the news today that, that people are really worried about. Um, so that's just one example of how just accessing the breakfast or the lunch you need to grow and thrive is so much harder during the pandemic.

Phil:

Last question for both of you and Anne, I'll let you answer first and we'll go to Carrie, what do you want the food industry to know more than anything else? Um, whether it be a supermarket, whether it be a farmer, whether it's be a rancher, what's that one message that you want to make sure that you get out?

Anne:

Well, I, I think for me and I speak for, um, all of the supply chain organization at feeding America and across network, we really appreciate and thank all of our partners for their super generous donations. Um, we can't do this alone and we also think the in kind of assistance we're getting from the industry. And I would say that, uh, we, I would, I would challenge us all to really think about how we're going to continue to do this work once we get on the other side of the pandemic, because, um, I think our fear is that maybe some of these donations will, um, will go away. Um, but I would encourage everyone to, to make donating, to feeding America food, the produce, the ag donations, manufacturing at retail. It just, we need to continue to stay focused on it. And I also just personally want to recognize, um, the farmers and ranchers and everybody in the industry across the country. We, we totally recognize that your businesses are also severely impacted. Your communities are impacted. And, um, you know, I just want to say we're resilient. Our network is resilient and, you know, we stand with you

Carrie:

and is a hard act to follow. I really do echo what she says. You know, we know that our, our, our donors and our partners are struggling right now and recognize the very real need we're hazing. Um, and certainly we've, we have seen, um, donation partners across the supply chain step up to help out during these trying times. Um, we've also seen them step up and work with us to tell this story of, of need and the reconnecting that needs to happen to get the available feed to those in need. Um, you know, so when they work with us to tell our story to the federal government, whether it's the USTA or Congress, we can be so much stronger together when we, um, when we collaborate and advocate together. And I think our voices are so much stronger when we can do that.

Phil:

Well, thank you both very much for all the great work that you and feeding America is doing these days, and hopefully continues to become even more important in everybody's lives. Um, and thank you for joining us today on farm food facts. Thank you. Thanks for listening to today's podcast episode, for more information on all things, food and agriculture, please visit us@usfarmersandranchers.org. Also be sure to look for us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USF RA until next time.