Pork, beef, bean and onion groups pitch in to help Foodbank
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Responding to an urgent request for help by the Idaho Foodbank, Idaho farmers and ranchers are helping feed the state's needy.
Donations from farm groups and individual farmers have increased significantly since the food bank put out an appeal to Idaho's agricultural community last year to help fight hunger.
"The level of interest we've been having from agricultural groups is really exciting," said Idaho Foodbank President and CEO Karen Vauk. "When we explain what the need is, not only do (farmers) look for ways they can help, but they look for ways they can get their friends to help."
Vauk said demand for food bank services has increased so dramatically in recent years that the group has asked farmers to help even more than they already do.
The amount of food the group provides Idahoans each year has nearly doubled since 2008, Vauk said, and the food bank is now providing 12 million pounds of food annually.
The model for how farmers can help was set with the Beef Counts program, which was launched in 2010 by Idaho's ranching community and has provided more than 404,000 3-ounce servings of beef.
Since then, other commodity groups have chipped in as well. The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee has committed to monthly donations of onions during the season and has donated more than 180,000 pounds so far.
The Idaho Pork Producers Association recently teamed up with producers and industry partners to provide more than 873 pounds of fresh pork. The state's potato industry has always donated to the food bank but groups and individual farmers have stepped up their donations recently, Julie Pipal, the food bank's food resource manager, said.
Idaho's dry bean industry has helped the food bank source and distribute more than six truckloads of beans.
"The food bank does a lot of good. Everybody ought to pitch in and donate a little bit where they can," said Big D Ranch owner Richard Durrant, who donated 44,000 pounds of pinto beans recently and encourages other farmers to help out where they can.
Individual farms such as the Berry Ranch in Nampa are also helping out. The ranch donated more than 180,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables last year.
As demand for the food bank's services has increased, donations have decreased, largely because food manufacturers who have historically donated the bulk of food banks' products have cut down on overruns or labeling mistakes since the recession began, Vauk said.
Idaho produces a tremendous amount of agricultural commodities, Pipal said, and while the agricultural community is donating about 500,000 pounds of food annually right now, the food bank would like to see that number increase significantly.
"If we can connect with these farmers and ranchers, we can solve a lot of this hunger issue in our state on our own," she said.
Anyone interested in donating to the food bank can call Pipal at (208) 577-2701.