The Maryland Food Bank already has much to be thankful for. And it's really thankful for Maryland's farmers.
Five months into its fiscal year, the Food Bank reports that 51 Maryland farmers have donated more than a million pounds of fresh produce through the "Farm to Food Bank" program. That equates to more than 769,000 meals.
The Farm to Food Bank program was created last year by the Maryland Food Bank with a two-year, $250,000 USDA grant. About $75,000 of that is used to help farmers offset their costs in growing extra food so that it can be donated, explains John May, the bank's senior vice president of operations.
At best, he adds, farmers may break even by participating. But most donate time and labor as well as produce. None actually make money.
Last year, 27 farmers – all but one on the Eastern Shore – participated in the program and donated 515,000 pounds. Only five months into its fiscal year, Farm-to-Food" has received twice as much as it did all of last year. All donated food is redistributed through the Food Banks' 600 partnering agencies and organizations that provide food directly to families and other agencies across the state.
Of the 51 farmers participating this year, 41 are on the Eastern Shore, four are in Washington County, three are in Baltimore County, two are in Southern Maryland, and one is in Anne Arundel County.
Of the million pounds donated, just over 719,000 pounds came from the Eastern Shore. Two participating farms – First Fruit Farm of Baltimore County and Farmers for the Hungry of Charles County – are nonprofit organizations that grow food to be donated.
"These farmers heard the Food Bank's call for help and opened their fields and hearts to respond," says Maryland Ag Secretary Buddy Hance. "We hope more farmers will decide to participate in the Farm to Food Bank program as they hear about it and see the good work it does for Maryland."
How Farm-to-Food works
Produce is donated via gleaning. Farmers open their fields after harvest and allow others to take what's left for charitable purposes.
Some farmers gather their own crops for donation. This year, though, more than 235,000 pounds of fresh produce was harvested by prison inmates nearing their release dates from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services' Public Safety Works. Nearly a half million pounds of produce has been harvested over the last two years by inmates, mostly from two Eastern Shore pre-release facilities.
"We're doing everything we can to allow inmates an opportunity at restorative justice – paying back society for their crimes in a most meaningful way. There's no more meaningful way to do that than to harvest food you know is going to help those in need," notes Gary Maynard, secretary of Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Anyone interested in helping the Food Bank with gleaning and sorting food at its locations around the state should contact Jennifer Small at the Food Bank at 410-742-0050 or Amy Cawley at 443-735-0757.