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A shocking one in nine Marylanders do not know where their next meal will come from. Even harder to hear, nearly 200,000 of those Marylanders are children, according to Feeding America.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue of food insecurity and increased the need for food assistance programs.

Luckily, there are organizations like the Maryland Food Bank, and programs like their Farm to Food Bank Program, that are tackling hunger right here in communities across the state.

In its 11th year, the Farm to Food Bank Program works with Maryland farmers to provide food banks with access to fresh, local produce. The program does this by partnering with farmers to glean fields with excess crops, secure crop donations, and contract farmers to grow produce for local food banks.

As a farmer whose operation has participated in the program from its very beginnings, I know just how much of a difference this program makes in the lives of families everyday. For those struggling to meet their basic needs, having access to nutritious and healthy food makes a world of difference.

Just this past month over the course of several days, staff members from the Maryland Department of Agriculture and Maryland Food Bank volunteers joined together in Hurlock, Maryland, to glean nearly 29 bins of collard greens, totalling more than three tons! These collards were taken directly from the field to the Maryland Food Bank’s facility in Salisbury, where they were weighed and distributed to local food banks and ultimately consumed by Marylanders who need it most only days later.

Waste Not

Gleaning events like these also help tackle another prominent issue our country faces — food waste. Everyday in the U.S., an estimated one-third of our food goes to waste even as 35 million people go hungry. By having volunteers glean farmers’ fields for excess crops, farmers are putting left-over produce — that would otherwise go to waste — to good use.

Additionally, by contracting local farmers to grow produce, the Maryland Food Bank is securing the specific fruits and vegetables they need to nourish those they serve and are simultaneously helping to strengthen our local food systems. This program is truly a win-win for Maryland farmers and our communities.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as need at local food banks continued to rise, farmers throughout the state stepped up. I have heard countless stories about the generosity of Maryland farmers, from dairy producers in western Maryland donating milk, poultry producers on the Eastern Shore donating chicken, and produce farmers donating fresh fruits and vegetables. I am proud to represent an industry that cares so much for their fellow Marylanders.

If any farmers are interested in participating in the Farm to Food Bank program, please reach out to the program coordinator Amy Cawley at acawley@mdfoodbank.org or 410-737-8282.

More information can be found on the Maryland Food Bank’s website at mdfoodbank.org

Joseph Bartenfelder is Maryland’s secretary of agriculture.

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