Illinois Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study report now available online

Cover page of Farm to Food Bank report

As reported in previous posts, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has been collaborating with Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and other stakeholders to explore ways to reduce food waste from farms while also recovering nutritious fresh foods to increase the state’s food supply and help citizens facing food insecurity.

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 Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship, at http://hdl.handle.net/2142/114171.

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:

Three essential aspects of a farm to food bank program1. 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
technology platforms.
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.

Read more about this project on the “Project Descriptions” section of the TAP website.

 

 

Farm to Food Bank Survey Deadline Extended, Focus Groups Planned

Graphic encouraging IL farmers to complete an online survey by March 30, 2021

In a 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.

Graphic representation of the study elements, as described in the text of the blog post

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 Program to indicate interest in the focus groups, for additional information on the study, or for assistance with completion of the producer survey.

Graphic representation of the three data compilation elements, as described in the post text

Technical Assistance Program collaborates to connect surplus food with hunger relief agencies

The University of Illinois, Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau are collaborating to collect and collate information on the locations, types, and quantities of “surplus” specialty crops in Illinois, including potential acquisition costs. 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.

Wasted Food = Wasted Resources + Wasted Dollars + Wasted Nutrition

According to the second edition of the Natural Resources Defense Council report Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill, roughly two-fifths of the food we produce in our country goes uneaten for a variety of reasons, based on losses in the production, processing, distribution, and consumption stages of our food system. Beyond the food itself, this reality represents a huge loss of the resources invested in our nation’s food production–“food and agriculture consume up to 16 percent of US energy, almost half of all US land and account for 67 percent of the nation’s freshwater use.”

Image of NRDC "Wasted" report cover with a photo of a watermelon with a wedge removed.The loss is economic as well as environmental. NRDC estimates that over 400 pounds of food are wasted per person annually in the US, equivalent to “a loss of up to $218 billion each year, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually.”

The situation is made all the more tragic when considering that Feeding America estimated 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food in 2018. “Food insecurity” refers to a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

In 2018, 1,283,550 people experienced food insecurity in Illinois.

Global Pandemic Makes a Bad Situation Worse

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the issues of food waste and hunger have become even more pronounced. In the wake of unemployment, medical bills and other unforeseen costs, many people have struggled to make ends meet. Simultaneously, our food supply chain scrambled to pivot to a world in which institutions and businesses involved with food service or food retail shut down as part of efforts to slow the spread of disease. As an example of the challenges this presented, some perishable goods like milk or meat may be produced and packaged in bulk specifically for large-scale customers such as restaurants. So, when those customers suddenly no longer exert their typical demands on the system, large quantities of commodities may spoil if new customers can’t be identified to absorb the available supply, or if the means for alternative packaging or distribution cannot be quickly realized. News reports featured stories of commodities without outlets being dumped or livestock euthanized and record-long lines at food banks. Feeding America estimates that due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 50 million people may experience food insecurity, including a potential 17 million children.

Farm to Food Bank Programs as Viable Solutions

Decreasing waste and increasing nutritional access are being addressed across the nation in various ways. One strategy for addressing these issues simultaneously is through Farm to Food Bank programs. “Farm to Food Bank” projects 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. Some existed long before pandemic-related restrictions rocked the nation’s food systems, since it is not uncommon for farmers to donate their surpluses to local hunger relief agencies. Existing programs have had to work hard to keep up with increased demand during the pandemic and expand where possible. Several new farm to food bank programs have been created over the past year in direct response to pandemic-related systemic pressures, as highlighted in a recent article for Civil Eats by Lynne Curry. Many of these are notable because they use donated funds to pay farmers fair market prices for commodities that would otherwise be wasted, or to cover other economic barriers to surplus redistribution (e.g. labor or transportation costs), creating interim markets as a stopgap response to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

One such program, The Farmlink Project, was launched in April 2020 by college students in response to the struggling they witnessed in their home communities after returning from their shut-down campuses. The project uses donated funds to pay for the packing of farm surplus and delivery to food distribution sites. Databases of interested farmers and nearby food banks are being built to enable efficient connections. Partnership with Food Finders, a food rescue organization, and Uber Freight allows logistical hurdles to be addressed by those with appropriate expertise. In the organization’s short life it has grown to involve more than 100 college and university students from across the country, serving all but five of the fifty United States, and has delivered over 22,000,000 pounds of food, according to the project website.

In New Mexico, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization, began its Farm to Food Bank Project at the start of the pandemic, and reported in December 2020 that it had provided “more than 12,000 pounds of local, fresh produce–reaching thousands of community members in need.” AFSC uses donations to purchase “organic produce from 25 sustainable farms and distribute that food to Roadrunner Food Bank—the state’s largest food bank—as well as five shelters and food pantries that serve people who are homeless, domestic violence survivors, seniors, and immigrants.” They additionally supply “farmers with seeds and other farming materials, as well as safety items like face masks and gloves. In return, farms are providing a portion of the food they grow to local relief agencies.”

Some long-running programs have integrated various ways to address economic barriers for farmers. Operating since 2005, the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) Farm to Family program offers a “pick and pack” fee to farmers to help mitigate harvesting and packaging costs. CAFB handles the logistics, transporting surplus food from farms to food banks throughout the state for redistribution. Participating farmers are also eligible for a 15% state tax credit.

With these and many other examples elsewhere in the nation, various stakeholders in Illinois are considering what lessons can be learned to determine how the farm to food bank concept could be applied to circumstances within our state.

Stakeholders Collaborate to Improve Food Security in Illinois

Even before the pandemic began, Illinois stakeholders were considering how to ensure more food would reach those in need through farm to food bank strategies. In early 2020, staff from Feeding Illinois and the Illinois Farm Bureau began discussions related to expansion of programs and opportunities for moving surplus food commodities to hunger relief agencies throughout the state. These agencies reached out to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to discuss the types of data and analyses needed to support such efforts. Plans began for a feasibility study, involving collaboration with the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, to expand and improve farm to food bank commodity flows. The study kicked off with a survey of participants at the annual Illinois Specialty Crops Conference in January 2021.

The overall outcomes of this project are being realized by meaningful collaboration between over two dozen organizations across Illinois. The feasibility study is being led by Feeding Illinois with support from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the Illinois Farm Bureau, and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. ISTC’s TAP is spearheading data collection and analysis, as well as final report preparation.

Logos of Feeding Illinois, the IL Farm Bureau, the Specialty Crop Growers Association and the Prairie Research Institute

Project Objectives

The feasibility study will involve collection and collation of information on the locations, types, and quantities of “surplus” specialty crops in Illinois, including potential acquisition costs. Objectives include:

  • Provide producers with additional end markets for commodities
  • Identify the quantity and quality of surplus food in Illinois
  • Expand supply of fresh food to food banks
  • Increase food security
  • Reduce food loss and foster a statewide circular economy
  • Establish a sustainable farm to food bank program in Illinois

Study Components

In order to evaluate and devise effective strategies for expansion of farm to food bank programs within Illinois, the study team is evaluating what has worked as part of such programs in other states. Project staff are reviewing and reaching out to similar programs nationwide to compile best practices, key challenges, pinch points where material flows may slow down or stop due to a variety of factors, performance indicators, and key stakeholders to include in strategic planning.

Graphic representation of the study elements, as described in the text of the blog post

Simultaneously, the project team is taking a three-pronged approach to compile the data necessary to develop and assess the feasibility of strategies for a statewide farm to food bank program in Illinois.

Graphic representation of the three data compilation elements, as described in the post textThe first step is collecting feedback from Illinois producers on current conditions, challenges, opportunities, and past experiences via the aforementioned online survey, which was launched during a session presented at the virtual 2021 Illinois Specialty Crop Conference that took place in January. Conference attendees were encouraged to complete the survey during the conference and will receive electronic reminders from session coordinators. It includes questions on current practices, market channels, market alternatives, product marketability, and the farm-to-food-banks experience from the producer perspective. The survey will be open to Illinois producers until March 15th.

Additionally, virtual focus groups including producers, representatives of hunger relief agencies, and food distributors will be held, to supplement, validate, and contextualize the information gathered through the surveys. 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.

Survey respondents and focus group participants will have the opportunity to indicate interest in participating in future pilot studies of any new farm-to-food-bank strategies to address food insecurity identified as part of this overall feasibility study.

Finally, TAP will synthesize the findings from the surveys and focus groups to estimate the statewide supply of food commodities not currently entering the market. TAP will prepare a final report–essentially a roadmap for a statewide farm to food bank program–outlining the opportunity and feasibility (including both logistical and economic considerations) of implementing various farm to food bank project scenarios. The report will be made available online to inform Illinois producers and other stakeholders, and to assist with similar efforts in other states.

Participate

Illinois producers can support these efforts by completing our survey. It takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. If you prefer,  request to have a a hard copy of the survey mailed to you by contacting ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program.

For additional information, assistance with survey completion, or to express interest in participating in the forthcoming focus groups, please contact the ISTC Technical Assistance Program.

Learn More

Focus on Food Waste: Federal Bill Could Expand Food Donation

In August of 2016, the ISTC blog featured information on an Illinois law geared toward increasing the donation of unused food from schools and other public agencies. That legislation addressed widespread confusion about protection from liability under the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (aka the Emerson Act), which went into effect in 1996. Now federal legislation has been introduced to amend the Emerson Act in ways that will also hopefully encourage food donation.

 

In February US Representatives Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and James P. McGovern (D-MA) introduced HR 952, The Food Donation Act of 2017. The goals of this proposed legislation are to clarify and expand liability protections offered under the Emerson Act to better align with the current food recovery landscape. As outlined on Representative Fudge’s web site, HR 952 would:

  • Designate the USDA as the executive agency in charge of implementing, interpreting, and promoting awareness of the Emerson Act. Congress had never assigned the Emerson Act to a particular federal agency for enforcement.
  • Protect donations made directly from donors to needy individuals. This provision is limited to food service establishments and retail stores, and these entities must comply with food service requirements like training and inspections. This particular update of the Emerson Act is important to ensure the timely use of perishable items. Currently the Emerson Act limits protections to food provided to social service agencies (e.g. food banks or soup kitchens).
  • Amend the Emerson Act to state that donors retain liability protection if the recipient pays a Good Samaritan Reduce Price for food, or the cost of simply handling, administering, and distributing food. This provision would, for example, extend liability protections to non-profit grocery stores that sell surplus food at reduced prices (e.g. Daily Table in Dorchester, MA)
  • Amend the Emerson Act to cover foods that comply or are reconditioned to comply with safety ­related federal, state, and local labeling standards. In this way, donations of food that was mislabeled in a way unrelated to safety would be protected, to help keep such items out of the waste stream.
  • Allow for donation for safe “past-dated” food. In this way items that are beyond a listed “Sell By” date, but which are still perfectly safe to eat, could be covered under liability protections. As noted on the ISTC blog earlier this week, industry is working to change the way it labels food to minimize consumer confusion, and elimination of “sell by” dates that really don’t reflect food safety are part of the proposed changes. But until labeling changes have been widely adopted, this provision could help reduce unnecessary food waste. The text of HR 952 directs that “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, issue regulations with respect to the safety and safety-related labeling standards of apparently wholesome food and an apparently fit grocery product under section 22 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1791).”

If passed this legislation could provide another important step toward the national goal to reduce food waste by half by the year 2030, in alignment with Target 12.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

 

For further information, see the press release on HR 952 on Representative Fudge’s web site, updates on the bill (including its text) on Congress.gov, and the Food Donation Act of 2017 fact sheet.

 

Image of the Food Donation Act of 2017 fact sheet

 

Focus on Food Waste: Recent and Upcoming Food Waste Events

Interested in ways to fight food waste in your organization or community? Be sure to check out these upcoming events, as well as archived resources from recent events.

Upcoming Events

US EPA Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Web Academy Webinar: New Tool Kit: Reforming Laws and Policies to Enhance Food Recovery at the State and Local Level

Thursday, Oct 20, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM CDT; Register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7992718732755591171

 

In September 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030 and are seeking to work with public and private partners to take action and make this happen over the next 14 years. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is one of EPA’s partners and is at the forefront of identifying key areas where current laws create barriers to reducing this food waste or where policies can incentivize more food recovery, and is actively working on the federal and state level to help reform those laws. One way to assist with the proliferation of better food recovery laws and policies is by providing information to states and local governments regarding methods of increasing food recovery. In order to make such information more widely available, FLPC created a toolkit for state and local policymakers interested in reducing food waste. This toolkit brings together lessons from their research and policy work in date labeling, tax incentives, liability protections, organic waste bans, leftovers for livestock as well as other food waste policies, to provide state and local policy makers with a comprehensive menu of policy options to reduce food waste.

 

Join this webinar to learn what is included in this toolkit, and how you can use it in your state or local food waste policy planning. Presenters will explain the content and how best to use the toolkit, with a focus on a few of the sections, and will answer questions from webinar participants about these and other examples.

 

Controlling Food Waste in School Food-Service

Thursday, Oct 20, 2016, 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM CDT, Hillsdale, IL;  Space is limited–RSVP to carl@pbjreps.com or pj@pbjreps.com.

 

ISTC’s Joy Scrogum will be among the presenters, talking about the Green Lunchroom Challenge Program. Other presenters will covers topics such as speed scratch cooking, presenting freshness, preserving freshness, holding freshness, storing freshness and more. Learn about food waste reduction while supporting a great cause! The event is free with a suggested $10 donation at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository; PBJ Commercial Agents will be matching donations. See http://www.greenlunchroom.org/documents/Controlling-Waste-PBJ.pdf for more information.

 

Composting Policy Forum

Monday, Oct 24, 1:00 PM -3:00 PM CDT,  Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, IL 60022; Register at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdO69XnWKyU-NCLmXTzr8n6SyAteHCkVoAdSaQOMulOmgvprA/viewform.

 

Seven Generations Ahead, the Illinois Environmental Council, the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County and the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition invite you to attend the third in a series of four free forums addressing composting policy in Illinois. Get updates on food scrap composting initiatives in Northern Cook County. Learn about Illinois landfill disposal bans and their impact. Discuss what would be needed for a successful organics disposal ban in Illinois. View the agenda online.

 

Recent Events

US EPA SMM Web Academy Webinar: Food: Too Good to Waste – Community Results and Lessons Learned

Sept. 22, 2016; View archived presentation materials online.

 

Currently, over 30 percent of the food currently grown and processed in the U.S. goes uneaten. When wholesome, edible food ends up in a landfill, all those embedded resources (along with the money spent on them) also get wasted. This impacts the environment, our community and the bottom line. The Food: Too Good to Waste toolkit was designed and developed for local governments and other community partners to help prevent wasted food in households. This community food waste prevention toolkit has been tested throughout the US and helps households save money while reducing wasted food by up to 50%. During this webinar we will present results from an evaluation report on several campaign implementations and hear from three of those communities who successfully implemented this toolkit.

 

Michigan DEQ Sustainability Series Webinar: Engaging in Food Recovery

Sept. 22, 2016; View archived slides and recording online (Note: Scroll to the bottom of the page).

 

Food scraps are the “final frontier” for organics recovery. Food is the most water, labor and nutrient intensive of the wastes we produce. And not all food that is wasted is unfit for a plate. Food recovery should come first. After that, diversion from landfills, then identifying the best options to recover what value we can from what we worked so hard to grow. Learn how your business or organization can avoid wasting this valuable resource. This webinar was geared towards any business or institution that generates food waste in a kitchen or cafeteria or through food processing, as well as anyone interested in learning more about food waste recovery. Presented by Sally L. Brown, PhD, a Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington. She is a Fellow in the Soil Science Society of America, and was a member of the National Academy of Science Committee on Soils. She writes a monthly column for Biocycle magazine and a blog for the Huffington Post.