Proposed grant would help farmers harvest and package leftover crops for hungry families

Proposed grant would help farmers harvest and package leftover crops for hungry families

An estimated 150 to 175 million pounds of produce is wasted on Wisconsin farms each year.

The Harvest for Hope bill reintroduced at the Capitol this session is trying to make it easier for farmers to donate those leftovers to food pantries.

For the last two years, Scott Alsum, a sweet corn farmer in Friesland, has been donating his extra crop to Second Harvest. He pays his workers to spend time picking and packaging the vegetables.

“It was just an easy way for us to give away something that somebody else could use, rather than plowing it under and leaving it in the field,” said Alsum.

For many farmers, although it is frustrating to see their product wasted, they don’t have the resources to collect and send it all to local food banks.

The proposed $250,000 grant would be given to the statewide organization chosen to coordinate and distribute the food. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would match that grant.

A majority of the money will be given to farmers and processors as an incentive to donate.

“What we’re doing with this bill is saying ‘Ok farmer, we know you want to give more, but we want to do it so it doesn’t cost you money to go to Del Monte. So we give Del Monte the money for you and then get it out to all the people around the state of Wisconsin,'” said Representative Scott Krug, (R – Rome) the bill author.

The two statewide agencies who can receive the grant are Feeding Wisconsin and CAP Services. No more than 11 percent of the money can be used for the organization’s administrative costs.

“Farmers that donate, they often donate out of the goodness of their heart. But by offering some marginal cost recovery for these donations, they can do a lot more,” said David Lee, executive director of Feeding Wisconsin.

Through affiliated agencies and partner programs, including Second Harvest, Feeding Wisconsin provides food to about 600,000 Wisconsinites each year.

Lawmakers against the bill want to see all food banks benefit from the grant money, instead of just one organization.

But Lee said if Feeding Wisconsin received the grant, the food will be shared with food banks throughout the state.

If passed, the bill will get healthy fruits and vegetables to the 750,000 hungry Wisconsinites, including 250,000 children.

“We like to provide what we call foods to encourage a healthy lifestyle and this fresh fruits and vegetables, even the stuff that has to be canned, will land directly into that and it’s really going to help the people that we serve,” said Kris Tazelaar with Second Harvest Foodbank.

The project would begin with a 4-year pilot program. The bill is waiting for a vote in the assembly and a public hearing in the Senate.