With a new growing season under way, the ninth annual Farms to Food Banks program is as well.

Feeding Kentucky, formerly known as the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, is calling on Kentucky farmers to participate. The program works to reduce food waste by rescuing cosmetically blemished produce and distributing it to Kentuckians at risk of hunger. It covers a farmer’s cost of picking, packing and transporting produce from the field to a regional food bank in Kentucky, according to a news release.

“This program is vitally important to serving our food insecure clients. Most clients don’t have the financial resources to purchase healthy food options, so this is an excellent program to help fill that void,” said Jamie Sizemore, Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland executive director.

Last year Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland distributed 67,000 pounds of produce in Hardin County and more than 700,000 pounds throughout its 34-county service area through the program. Seven Hardin County farmers participated in 2018.

“The Farms to Food Banks program is a great example of Kentucky’s agricultural community at its finest,” Feeding Kentucky Programs Coordinator Sarah Vaughn said. “Farmers tell us they hate to see anything go to waste. The program helps ensure farmers are able to donate rather than plow under their unmarketable produce. And the families we serve are always thrilled to receive great local produce.”

The statewide produce recovery initiative has significantly grown in part from support from the Kentucky General Assembly, the Ken­tucky Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture, private funders such as Lift a Life Foundation and Farm Credit Mid-America, and donations from individuals.

In 2011, slightly more than 140,000 pounds were distributed. The goal for 2019 is 3 million pounds.

In the eight years of program implementation, enough Kentucky-grown produce has been distributed to fill half a plate for more than 30 million meals.

Kentucky was one of the first states to implement a Farms to Food Banks initiative and Ken­tucky’s program was presented as a model for the federal government to consider. The recently enacted Farm Bill includes money for a federal Farms to Food Banks program for the first time.

The Farms to Food Banks program is administered by Feeding Kentucky, which works to end hunger for the one in six Kentuckians, including 200,000 children, who do not always know where their next meal will come from.

Interested Kentucky farmers should contact Feeding Kentucky at 859-986-7422 or a produce@feedingky.org.

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