The demand to get nutritious food to struggling families may have slowed slightly since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, but not much: At its Aug. 10 distribution day, Westmoreland County Food Bank officials estimate they served about 1,000 families.
To continue that effort — and to lend a hand to local farmers — the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture will invest $10 million to acquire surplus produce from farmers across the state to funnel through charitable food systems, officials announced.
For Dan Yarnick of Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana, that surplus may be tough to come by.
“With covid, there has been no surplus,” Yarnick said. “Things are selling, people are canning and freezing. Vegetables are selling like crazy this year. But if we do have any excess, we usually work directly with the (Greater) Pittsburgh Food Bank.”
The food bank, along with its sister bank in Westmoreland, is a member of the Feeding Pennsylvania charitable network. The state’s $10 million investment — $5 million for dairy purchases, and $5 million split among fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs — takes the form of a contract with Feeding Pennsylvania, funded through the state’s CARES Act allocation.
“If there’s anything worse than the waste of fresh, local food and the labor of love from Pennsylvania farmers, it’s the hunger that more than 2 million Pennsylvanians are facing every day as we fight covid-19,” Redding said. “This is $10 million in relief for Pennsylvania farmers who have lost markets but have not swayed in their commitment to nourishing our commonwealth. It’s $10 million in fresh, local food to go on the plates of families who were unsure of where their next meal would come from.”
The effort is coordinated through the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System, or PASS, which works to connect farmers with the nonprofit sector. Since its founding in 2016, more than 12 million pounds of food have been distributed to all 67 counties in the state. Sixty different foods have come from 137 farmers, processors and growers.
That group includes Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park, which regularly donates through the Feeding Pennsylvania network to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and North Hills Community Outreach.
Surplus produce also is not too common at Soergel’s this year, according to general manager Eric Voll.
“It’s been very challenging with the cold spring we had,” Voll said. “We were several weeks behind on several crops. Then when we got into that heat wave, everything that was supposed to be harvested over a three-week period ripened in about three days. And the drought impacted items like the rest of the sweet corn and things we weren’t able to irrigate.”
In 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Feeding America estimates the number of Pennsylvanians facing food insecurity will grow to nearly 16%, an increase of about 45% in just two years.
Yarnick said he’s happy to do whatever he can to help.
“We love being part of this type of program,” he said. “We try to help. Farmers are good people.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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