TRENTON, N.J. – Farmers across America without schools, hotels and restaurants to buy their food are being forced to dump millions of gallons of milk, mulch produce back into the soil, and smash hundreds of thousands of eggs.
As mandatory shutdowns leave farmers with few options and hundreds of thousands without jobs, lawmakers representing the farming communities from the south and northwest part of the state are working on a measure that would allow the state to buy Jersey Fresh produce to donate to non-profits serving the hungry.
“With more than 800,000 people out of work in New Jersey, we know that people can use healthy food now more than ever. Farmers are also unable to move their products like they used to and face a crisis of their own,” said Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-Cape May). “My fellow lawmakers and I are working on a solution that mirrors the efforts on the federal level.”
The USDA recently announced a $19 billion food relief program that will support farmers and ranchers, while feeding hungry Americans during the coronavirus crisis. Three billion would be set aside to purchase fresh produce, dairy and meat that will go to organizations that serve those in need.
“If we could donate Jersey Fresh produce to non-profits and food banks, we would able to get farm fresh food into the homes of those who need it the most and help farmers at the same time,” said Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex). “The challenges our farmers are facing are unprecedented. Unlike other businesses like restaurants that are now take-out only, farmers cannot adapt so easily to a changing marketplace because they are equipped to meet certain demands in the supply chain by either packaging foods in mass quantities for wholesalers or into individual cartons for school cafeterias. As a result, many of their perishable products are going to waste.”
The expense of transporting and temporarily repackaging their products is prohibiting farmers from donating to non-profits directly.
“The farmers’ supply chains have been completely upended as businesses and schools across the state are shutdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” said Assemblyman Erik Simonsen (R-Cape May). “With such a significant drop in profits, they can’t afford to make any changes in their production. We have to do something to help them and the many who are finding themselves in need of food assistance for the first time.”
The United Nations is predicting more than a quarter of a billion people around the world will go hungry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, is seeing the number of people that rely on their help grow as much as 50 percent in some cities. As the demand for food grows, some charities are reporting that they are no longer receiving the same quantity of donations from supermarkets because the stay-at-home orders have more people spending time in their kitchens.
“The need for food is going to grow in New Jersey if we don’t try to restart to the economy. We can’t let people go hungry and we can’t let farmers fail. We have to step in and do something now to provide relief,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex). “If we can get the farmers’ produce into the hands of these organizations, we are able to meet multiple demands at once and give a little security to residents, non-profits and farmers.”
Under a bill being drafted by the legislators, the state would purchase Jersey Fresh produce from farmers, with a proposed cap of $1 million, and donate the food to food banks, non-profits in need or school programs. The program would run during the state of emergency and farmers would need to apply to participate.