Struggling food stores look to Congress’ farm bill for help

During the pandemic, a food line ran through the parking lot outside the Albert Lea YMCA, starting at 4 a.m. And the mobile distribution site didn’t open until 11 a.m.

But they had boxes of fresh food.

“They had eggs, lots of fruits and vegetables. And they had milk,” Rose Montagni said during a hunger hearing at the Edgewater Park Pavilion in Albert Lea last month. “People were craving fresh foods.”

Two years later, those cravings haven’t gone away. But the US Department of Agriculture’s Family Farmers Program that provided this site in Freeburn County has died out. Furthermore, the stores say donations — especially for perishable foods — are deficient in an economy struggling with inflation.

In response, some hunger relief advocates are eyeing a goal on the horizon: the once-in-five-year farming bill.

said Alison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, which organized a series of farm bill hearings across the state this summer. “Now, we’re back in that storm.”

The Congressional Farm Bill has 12 sections, covering crop insurance for conservation programs. But 76% of The 2018 farm bill is close to $900 billion He went to feeding. And many hunger relief advocates — who argue that the legislation is as much a food bill as a farm bill — are looking to counteract the extreme pressure felt by Minnesota’s 370,000-plus food shelves.

Elizabeth Coyle, communications director for Prairie Five’s Community Action Council, said the food stores she oversees have been strained by demand this summer.

“[Food pantry visits in] Swift County increased by 60%. Canby increased by 130%. Big Stone 130%. Chippewa, 106%,” Coyle said, as of late July. “We haven’t served that many families for the past two years, and our food costs have increased dramatically.”

At the state’s largest food bank, an Amazon warehouse-style location at Second Harvest Heartland’s Brooklyn Park headquarters, mangoes, zucchini and cabbage arrive in crates stacked on pallets stored on slings. Second Harvest then distributes the products to regional and local stores across Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin.

A year ago, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Second Harvest operations, marveling at a site — one of only six in the country operated by a food bank — that allows Second Harvest to repack pallets of meat into a USDA-inspected clean room.

But the room remained dormant because the meat donations did not arrive.

“We barely used it,” O’Toole said. Our donations lag far behind.”

With supplemental unemployment insurance expiring, an enhanced child tax credit and expanded SNAP eligibility, O’Toole called 2022 the hungriest summer, as she’s seen it in recent history. She and others are calling for more funding for a small but vital funding line through the USDA Emergency Food Assistance Programor TEFAP.

This stream buys food grown in the US that ends up on the kitchen tables of low-income Americans – providing the customer with farmers and food for those who need it.

“All federal goods are down 50%,” O’Toole said, describing a reduced influx of fresh food purchased and distributed by the USDA. “This is huge. What we are trying to do is take advantage of the tremendous power of the federal government to provide food.”

In Albert Lea, located in northern Iowa, the pandemic revealed a latent hunger that preceded the virus.

“We’re basically an industrial city. We haven’t had massive layoffs,” said Erin Hagg, United Way County Executive in Freeborn County. “So it was a strange moment for those who ask, ‘Why are people standing in line at 4 a.m. for a food distribution that starts at 11 a.m.?'” “

For the pandemic’s first year, the United Way delivered food boxes through car windows under the USDA’s Farmers Program to families, which was created under the first COVID relief bill passed in March 2020. The USDA eventually dispatched more than 173 million boxes food across the United States. But the program ended in May 2021.

Since then, United Way in Freeborn County has had pop-up stores, like one in July at the local Armory. Haag said they’d like to expand to a brick-and-mortar site, which could serve as a hub for local food racks, such as in the neighboring town of Alden.

“A small food store, they sometimes struggle to get fresh produce because the bare minimum is like a pallet or a can. It’s too big for their small pantry,” said Haag.

But with more federal funding, Haag could act as a hub for satellite storage. This means fresh food. In 2021, for example, 15% of Freeborn County’s food aid came through TEFAP.

“I can order milk [with TEFAP]And I don’t have to pay for the milk, said Haag. I pay transportation and shipping costs. This is it.”

Without this help on the sidelines, Haag said, the outcome would be obvious. “We don’t have a pantry.”

Approximately 10% of Freeborn County residents face food insecurity. Although the three food shelves serve approximately 550 people per month, many are hungry.

montaine, Who works as a dedicated delivery person for those who cannot pick up food, deals directly with these neighbours. I noticed that many Latinos live in the southern half of town, far from fresh food.

“There are no grocery stores on this side of town,” Montaigne said. “We only have two: Hy-Vee and on the east end is Walmart.”

Montaigne says every store has a Hispanic section, but her customers prefer fresh foods they can cook, not just pour it out of the can or box. And for a moment, in an epidemic, they got help.

“The rice came in 10lb bags and it was very good rice,” Rose said. “They were very happy.”

She said it was a sense of satisfaction that aid workers and families alike were waiting to see them again.

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