The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved $1.2 billion in contracts to support food producers and communities through its Farmers to Families Food Box Program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 10 Michigan suppliers were selected, including Eastern Market Corp., Atlas Wholesale Food Co., Del Bene Produce Inc., and LaGrasso Bros., all of which are based in Detroit.
Other producers include Clemens Food Group, which is based in Pennsylvania and has a pork facility in Coldwater; Coveyou Farms in Petoskey; Gordon Food Service in Wyoming (south of Grand Rapids); Heeren in Comstock Park (north of Grand Rapids); Prairie Farms Dairy, which is based in Illinois and has a Battle Creek location; and Van Eearden Foodservice in Grand Rapids.
“This is really great news,” says Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Not only will these contracts help the awardees, but they’ll also help Michigan farmers – and, most importantly, they’ll help get fresh, nutritious food to individuals and families who really need it during this crisis. Michigan is proud to help support this vital program, and we thank USDA for recognizing the quality and capability of Michigan’s food and agriculture industry in this way.”
Through the program, USDA will contract with distributors and wholesalers that will provide pre-approved boxes of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits. The program is expected to begin distributing surplus food to communities within days.
“The seven members of the Food Bank Council of Michigan are distributing 40 percent more food during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan. “We understand that solving hunger, whether in a pandemic or not, starts in the field. FBCM is thankful for the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program being stood up in such a short amount of time that benefits our farmers and ranchers. This product will help fill the food gap and take hunger off the table for many of our Michigan families who are struggling during this time.”
Michigan products included in the boxes will be apples, asparagus, bell peppers, blueberries, bratwurst, cabbage, carrots, celery, cheese, concord grapes, cucumbers, fall squash, onions, peaches, potatoes, tomatoes, yellow squash, and zucchini.
“LaGrasso Bros. is thankful for this perfectly timed program with USDA,” says Tom Lagrasso III, president of LaGrasso Bros. “The USDA Farm to Family Food Box Program is critically important to helping great American farmers, distribution companies, such as LaGrasso Bros., and the families that are economically impacted by the COVID pandemic. LaGrasso Bros. hopes that we can do our part in helping the Michigan economy, Michigan families, and Michigan farmers with this amazing program.”
The USDA announced the program on April 17 as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program developed to help farmers, ranchers, and consumers in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Through the program, the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service is partnering with national, regional, and local suppliers, whose workforce has been impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels, and other food service businesses, to purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat products. The program will purchase $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 million in dairy products, $258 million in meat products, and $175 million in a combination boxes of fresh produce, dairy, or meat products.
Suppliers will package these products into family-sized boxes then transport them to organizations from May 15-June 30. The service may extend the contracts, via option periods, dependent upon program success and available remaining funds up to $3 billion.
“The USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program’s pre-packed boxes will help expand distribution of nutritious food to students and families across Michigan,” says Diane Golzynski, director of the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Health and Nutrition Services. “These boxes are a great addition for families supported by student meals and household distribution programs.”