As previously reported on the ISTC blog, the Farm to Food Bank program recently developed six case studies highlighting work with farmers during the 2022 growing season. Each case study includes a summary of the project, as well as lessons learned. Pilot project models included food flowing from farm to food bank, farm to food pantry, and utilizing aggregation sites.
Now the program has released “Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program 2022 Year in Review.” This report outlines all the different pilot projects that occurred in 2022 along with key takeaways. It also details central challenges and opportunities that exist in expanding this statewide program. The report was authored by the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) Zero Waste Program, in collaboration with Steve Ericson of Feeding Illinois.
Be sure to check ISTC’s social media platforms during April 10-16th, as we highlight some of the past and present work TAP is doing related to food waste. We’ll also share links to relevant blog posts, websites, videos, and other resources to help you on your food waste reduction journey. If you’re not already following us on social media, you can connect with us on:
Throughout the week, several partners across the U.S. will host webinars to inspire action to reduce food waste. For example:
Local Solutions: Food Waste Prevention Week. On Monday, April 10 at noon Central time, join the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a presentation featuring Food For the Soul, Hamilton County R3Source, Food Shift, and Alameda County StopWaste. County recycling experts and food rescuers will talk about valuing food, ensuring good food gets eaten, and how they share their stories with the community. Register here.
The Sustainable Management of Food on the U.S.-México Border. On Wednesday, April 12 at 12:30 PM Central, U.S. EPA Region 9 will present on food waste prevention, recovery, and recycling strategies, policies, and practices for and by border-adjacent communities. Register here.
School Food Recovery: Inventory Management, Share Tables, Smarter Lunchrooms and Food Donations. Also on April 12, at 1 PM Central, you can learn about food recovery in Florida schools. Guest speakers from Orange County Public Schools will provide key takeaways from their efforts to increase consumption, decrease waste, and donate excess food. Register here. [Note: Topics covered relate to TAP’s past Green Lunchroom Challenge project and efforts on a food waste reduction toolkit for IL Schools, though neither ISTC nor the Wasted Food Action Alliance is involved in planning or presenting this webinar.]
The Farm to Food Bank project recently published six case studies of their work with farmers during the 2022 growing season. Each case study includes a summary of the project, as well as lessons learned.
During the 2022 growing season, these six partners delivered over 975,000 pounds of surplus and off-grade fresh produce to food banks and pantries throughout Illinois.
Getting an early, off-season start with farmers markets and growers is essential. It allows farmers markets to introduce the program when growers aren’t as busy. It also allows food banks, food pantries, and growers to have conversations about what crops to plant, especially in areas of the state where the communities are diverse and may have preferences for specific types of produce.
Using reusable plastic crates prevents both packaging and food waste.
Growers can champion the program and recruit other growers.
Farmers can be aggregators. Having one farmer handle communications on behalf of several growers makes it easier for food banks to coordinate delivery and receive a variety of products.
Pairing farmers new to growing specialty crops with more experienced growers may help overcome challenges to participation.
Matching up harvest schedules with food bank pick-up schedules is essential.
When partnering growers directly with food pantries, additional considerations include:
how close in proximity they are to each other.
ensuring that food delivery and distribution schedules are in synch.
relying on food pantries to pick up at the farm presents challenges. Pantries often do not have adequate staff, capacity, or access to large vehicles, which means that some food gets left at the farm.
The Farm to Food Bank project was featured at the recent From Food to Flowers: Everything Local conference in Springfield.
The conference combined the Illinois Food, Farmers Market, and Specialty Crop Conferences and brought together farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state with other partners throughout the Illinois local food supply chain.
The Thursday evening banquet featured a panel presentation with Feeding Illinois, two Farm to Food Bank producer partners partners (Flamm Orchards and Roth Countryside Produce), The Land of Goshen Community Market, and St. Louis Area Foodbank. The panel discussed how their organizations were involved in the project, what their experiences were like, and what is needed to grow the initiative. During the banquet, Feeding Illinois also presented Rendleman Orchards with a “Friend of the Food Bank” award for their work with Farm to Food Bank.
Watch a video of the banquet program below, which includes remarks by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. The panel discussion starts at 31:00 and the award presentation is at 1:34:00.
The Farm to Food Bank project, a collaboration between Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), and Illinois farmers, has been getting some media attention. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Recently, project partners released the initial feasibility study report from the first year of this project, entitled Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program. The report is available in IDEALS, the University of Illinois’ institutional repository.
Through interviews, surveys, focus groups, and pilot projects it became clear that a Farm to Food Bank program would be welcomed by both the farming and food banking communities in Illinois. Such programs are defined in the Code of Federal Regulations [at 7 CFR 251.10(j)] as “the harvesting, processing, packaging, or transportation of unharvested, unprocessed, or unpackaged commodities donated by agricultural producers, processors, or distributors for use by Emergency Feeding Organizations (EFOs)” – i.e., hunger relief agencies. Several such programs exist throughout the United States, though not in every state (for examples, see the “Lessons from Other Farm to Food Bank Programs” section of this report). While commonly referred to as Farm to Food Bank, these programs can also operate as Farm to Food Pantry programs.
While this is an ongoing research project, this report serves to demonstrate research efforts undertaken from December 2020 – February 2022 that have led to this conclusion along with identifying strengths, weaknesses, threats, opportunities, and recommendations for a statewide Farm to Food Bank program.
Recommendations for 2022 and beyond include the following:
1. A Farm to Food Bank program should have three primary goals:
➢ Support farmers by providing a secondary market for off-grade and surplus products.
➢ Increase access to local, nutritious foods.
➢ Reduce food waste/surplus on farms and associated energy and resources.
2. Equity must be an essential part of the program.
3. Seek out partnerships with existing aggregation and processing centers.
4. Seek out partnerships with new food pantries.
5. Make Feeding Illinois and their member food banks a staple at ag-focused and food access events.
6. Increase communication between food banks.
7. Ensure buy-in from food banks and food pantries.
8. Improve capacity and resources at the food pantries.
9. Connect a Farm to Food Bank program with existing
10. Diversify funding sources. Develop an advocacy plan to pursue public and private support.
11. Establish an advisory board to guide the actions of the Farm to Food Bank program.
12. Develop guidance and educational programs for farmers.
13. Measure success by more than just pounds of donated food.
14. Hire a dedicated employee to manage the Farm to Food Bank program.
15. Adapt the program as needed.
16. Continue piloting Farm to Food Bank strategies around the state.
While these recommendations can serve to guide Farm to Food Bank efforts, further research is needed to uncover opportunities and test collection and distribution strategies. ISTC and Feeding Illinois will collaborate to continue this research for the remainder of 2022 into 2023. The project team will continue outreach and engagement efforts to both increase participation and gather feedback on the program. They will also continue to work with Rendleman Orchards, which participated in the first pilot project of the study, as well as conducting additional pilot projects. In the coming year, ISTC and Feeding Illinois will also work with farmers markets around the state to test aggregation strategies.
ISTC and Feeding Illinois partnered with Rendleman Orchards during the 2021 growing season to ensure no fruit went to waste. Through the USDA’s Farm to Food Bank grant, Feeding Illinois was able to pay Rendleman Orchards its picking and pack-out costs (PPO) which represent the farm’s costs to harvest and package the product and enabled the donation of the peaches, nectarines, and apples. The fruit was either off-spec, meaning it did not qualify to be sold in typical primary markets due to size/weight/blemishes, or surplus, meaning that the farmer did not have a buyer or market outlet for the fruit. The project team helped Rendleman Orchards avoid waste, recoup their costs, and provide fresh local nutritious fruit to Illinois neighbors in need.
Rendleman Orchards started by providing 48 cases of peaches to Tri-State Food Bank’s Vienna, IL hub. After initial success, St. Louis Area foodbank and Northern Illinois Food Bank began receiving cases of peaches and nectarines as well. As demand grew from the food banks, Rendleman Orchards aggregated peaches and nectarines from neighboring Flamm Orchards.
Each week Rendleman Orchards reached out to a specific contact at each food bank with quantities available. Interested food banks placed orders with Rendleman Orchards by the end of the week and either pick-up or receive a delivery the following Tuesday. Tri-State Food Bank and Northern Illinois Food Bank orders were delivered, while St. Louis Area foodbank picked up directly from the farm. All invoices were sent to Feeding Illinois and were paid upon confirmation of receipt from the food banks.
By the end of the 2021 growing season, Feeding Illinois reimbursed Rendleman Orchards $272,182 to cover the PPO costs for the donation of 567,085 pounds of Illinois-grown fresh fruits: 7,458 cases (372,900 lbs) of peaches; 539 cases (26,950 lbs) of nectarines; and a combined 167,235 pounds of bagged and bulk apples. An additional $10,420 was paid for associated deliveries to the four recipient food banks.
This fall, the Illinois Farm to Food Bank program wrapped up its pilot project with Rendleman and Flamm Orchards in Union County. Nearly 375,000 pounds of peaches and nectarines were distributed to food banks throughout Illinois.
Michelle Sirles of Rendleman Orchards said, “The Farmer to Food Bank Pilot was a HUGE Success. Every single person we worked with went above and beyond to make this a successful pilot year. It could not have come at a better time with the over abundance of peaches nationwide. It prevents a lot of peach dumping. It recouped farmers costs while providing fresh and healthy food for those in need. As a farmer we felt completely supported by Illinois Farm Bureau, our politicians, our state university, and our food bank partners. I truly feel this could be a shining star program for our state.”
The program also connected Roth Countryside Produce, located in Tazewell County, with a Peoria Area Food Bank agency to purchase $1750 worth of sweet corn, green cabbage, red cabbage, green beans, cantaloupe, bell peppers, green zucchini, golden zucchini, and seedless cucumbers.
While thousands of Illinoisans go hungry every day, up to 40 percent of food goes uneaten. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), Feeding Illinois, and other organizations are partnering to explore new, viable ways to connect farmers directly with food banks to increase the state’s food supply for the food insecure and reduce waste.
The Farm to Food Bank program partners are conducting a feasibility study for a statewide program, identifying approaches to address barriers, evaluating logistical challenges, and uncovering locally appropriate strategies. The result will be a roadmap used to roll out a state-funded program in Illinois, according to Zach Samaras, ISTC technical assistance engineer.
Besides ISTC and Feeding Illinois, study collaborators include the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. In the first year, the team has conducted a farmer survey, started a pilot project, and visited the eight state food banks.
One of the first actions was to create and distribute a statewide survey to farmers. Questions pertained to the type of product that farmers produce, their marketing strategies, barriers to production, and food losses. Slightly less than 10 percent of survey participants responded. The next step is survey analysis.
Farmers are also being recruited for focus groups to be held at an agricultural conference in early winter. This will be an opportunity for the collaborators to gauge farmers’ interest in the possibility of participating in a Farm to Food Bank program and collect further information on factors that would make participation more feasible for producers. Those interested in participating in focus groups should contact ISTC at email@example.com.
In the first pilot project, which started this summer, Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass donated grade 2 peaches to a food bank in southern Illinois. Grade 2 produce is typically small or has slight blemishes.
The organizations are looking to find an optimal mixture of incentives for farmers to participate in the program. In this case, the farm receives a tax deduction for the donated produce and reimbursement from Feeding Illinois and the food banks for the “pick and pack” costs.
The pilot project quickly scaled up from two pallets of peaches transported to one food bank in southern Illinois to over 40 pallets sent to four food banks in various parts of the state.
“While we are very happy with the numbers, our biggest goal was to build relationships between the farmers and the food banks and develop a process that could work for a variety of farms across the state,” said Samaras. “We certainly feel like we are on the right track.”
Since the program began, farmers have been receptive to learning more about the opportunity, said Steve Ericson, executive director of Feeding Illinois. Actual participation has been more challenging because once the growing, harvest, and marketing seasons begin, farmers find it too disruptive to start or change plans already in place. Also, it is important not to interfere with existing relationships farmers have with food pantries, which are distribution centers that receive food from food banks.
“The primary thing we’ve learned in this first year is that this is a learning year, Ericson said. “The interest is definitely there. In general and by nature, farmers are community-oriented. ‘Helping others’ is in their DNA. We want this program to provide a meaningful way for them to do that as a group and individually.”
A major future challenge will be determining the logistics of transporting a certain volume of produce efficiently from the farm to food banks. The growing season for specialty crops in Illinois is only six months long, a time when farmers are consumed with work at the farm. Another barrier is that Illinois’ specialty crop farms are for the most part smaller and more widespread than those in other renowned produce states.
Convincing farmers that it is worthwhile to build business relationships with food banks versus contributing locally will take time to instill and to prove the benefits, Ericson said.
The Farm to Food Bank program is supported by the USDA through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. For more information, visit the Farm to Food Bank Program website.
Ina previous post, we described a collaborative feasibility study being conducted by ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau, to collect information on locations, types, and quantities of surplus food in Illinois. Through a producer survey, a series of focus groups, and implementation of pilots across the state, the team looks to uncover the optimal mix of incentives and program interventions to overcome the current barriers to efficient flows of fresh food produced in Illinois, to Illinois residents, with as little waste as possible. The goal is to identify opportunities to develop a statewide farm to food bank program that will address food insecurity and food waste.
To help with this effort, farmers from every region of Illinois are encouraged to complete an online survey at go.illinois.edu/farm2foodbanksurvey.The survey will remain open (responses accepted) until a target number of responses have been received to ensure a robust sample size. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.
Participants are also being recruited for a series of virtual focus groups. The focus groups will be crafted to gather input from all regions of the state, as well as perspectives from underserved farmers. Participants will include producers, representatives of hunger relief agencies, and food distributors. Input from focus groups will supplement, validate, and contextualize the information gathered through the survey. This will also provide TAP the opportunity to gauge feasibility, interest, and barriers to implementing and participating in a farm to food bank project among producers.
The online producer survey offers respondents the opportunity to indicate their interest in focus group participation. Individuals can also contact the ISTC Technical Assistance Programto indicate interest in the focus groups, for additional information on the study, or for assistance with completion of the producer survey.