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With local food banks reporting a surge in the number of people needing food at the same time dairy farmers are dumping milk and chicken farmers are smashing unhatched eggs, it seems obvious to suggest these products should be diverted instead to places providing food to the needy.
We certainly believe this should happen and acknowledge our food banks often are the recipient of food donations from grocers and food suppliers. Those donations are critical to enabling food pantries to meet the needs of Kansans.
But the issue of donating food isn’t simple. Farmers are being forced to destroy large amounts of fresh food because the closing of restaurants, hotels and schools have left them with no buyers for the food they produced. While efforts have been made in Kansas and across the nation to donate excess food, in many instances, particularly with milk, there isn’t enough refrigeration or storage for agencies to take all the excess produced because of the closure of restaurants and schools. Another barrier to donations of fresh food is the cost involved in transporting unsold goods to a donation location.
In a time of incredible need, we are strained by a food supply chain that isn’t able to get its excess food to places it can be sold or donated. Food distributors are struggling to figure out how to retool their production for bulk supply products like 50-pound bags of flour purchased by restaurants to smaller packaging of items consumers use when they cook from home.
COVID-19 continues to show us our weaknesses, and addressing the shortfalls in our food supply system must be a primary focus as we move forward. How can we help our food producers re-scale their productions so the products they are making can go to the grocery stores and food banks that need them? It is increasingly likely that commercial food sales may not return full force for months, and consumers will continue to need the majority of their food supply from the local grocery store and food pantry. The commercial and consumer food supply chains have to meld more closely rather than the two separate tracks we know today.
It is an effort that deserves time, money and manpower. As the federal government, and our Kansas delegation, consider aid and solutions to assist in COVID-19 recovery, resources for our food producers must be included.
The pandemic has exposed limitations in our food supply chain, and we would be wise to act now to address them so we can better pivot in the future.
In the meantime, Kansans struggling to find eggs, flour or other necessities at their local grocery store should inquire of their favorite takeout restaurant. The proprietors may sell you goods from their commercial supply. Now is also an excellent time to acquaint yourself with local food providers who operate small farms and often sell directly to consumers. The website localharvest.org is a resource to find information about farmers selling vegetables, dairy, meat and other products grown in Kansas and available for sale to the public.