For more than a dozen years, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks’ Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program (OACP) has been the perfect partnership between farmers and food banks.
OACP helps direct surplus and unmarketable commodity products such as overproduced and misshaped fruits and vegetables from agriculture producers to Ohio’s 12 regional Feeding America food banks. The program is funded by a grant from the Ohio General Assembly and administered by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
“The OACP is important to Ohio’s food banks because it provides some of the most wholesome, highly nutritious food available within the emergency food assistance network,” said Charles Barber, communications manager for the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.
The idea for the program came from a conversation more than 15 years ago about how the farming community could help feed hungry Ohioans. OACP was started to provide wholesome and highly nutritious food for Ohioans, prevent food from being wasted and reduce losses for Ohio farmers.
Today OACP works with more than 100 farmers around the state to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to Ohio’s 12 Feeding America food banks. In state fiscal year 2010, OACP provided more than 24.6 million pounds of fresh produce to Ohioans at risk of hunger. The Ohio Food Purchase Program, the sister program to OACP that provides shelf-stable grocery items and protein-rich commodity items such as eggs and pork, contributed 8 million pounds of items with $12 million provided by the state legislature.
The amount of money that farmers receive depends on the commodity. Those who plant a crop are paid for picking, packing and transportation of their crop, Barber said.
“Before OACP, fields would have been plowed under,” he said. “Since the program began, farmers who are involved in the program can call with offers of excess fruits and vegetables they are unable to market through their regular channels. Throughout the growing season, if there is an overabundance of product in the field, due to weather and lulls in the market, OASHF is contacted with offers of these overabundances and items are moved to the food banks.”
With the economic downturn over the past couple of years, the demand within the food bank network has been high. From 2007 to 2010, on average each food bank within Ohio has seen an increase in need of more than 68 percent, Barber said.
“I continue to be amazed at the response from the farming community. They are providing the most nutritious food possible for people who may not have access to it otherwise. Not only are our farming partners feeling good about helping those in need, the program enables the farmers to also keep staff on longer and extend their operating hours,” he said.
The program has been so successful that other states have expressed interest in starting their own, including Kentucky and Wisconsin, which both are currently in the process of replicating Ohio’s program.
“To see the look on a child’s face that has never held a fresh piece of fruit speaks volumes to just how successful this program has become,” Barber said.
For more information, or to become an OACP partner, visit http://bit.ly/agclearance
Photo courtesy of OASHF.