Local growers can improve hunger situation in Kern County

David Krause is president of Wonderful Citrus.

Wonderful Citrus, part of The Wonderful Company, is headquartered in Delano, and America’s largest integrated grower, shipper and packer of fresh citrus, including Wonderful Halos mandarins and Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Texas Red grapefruit.

Almonds, pistachios, citrus – look around and you can see food growing throughout our community. Yet sadly, Kern County faces the 9th highest rate of food hardship in the United States. There doesn’t need to be this gap between food production and people in need of a little help getting nutritious food to their tables.

For five years, Wonderful Citrus has worked with the California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family program to help solve this problem. Farm to Family takes our surplus or secondary product that may not meet marketplace standards of beauty or size – but is still a nutritional powerhouse – and distributes it to food pantries throughout the state, including here in Kern County.

In 2015, Wonderful Citrus donated more than seven million pounds of citrus to Farm to Family, and we’ve already distributed more than 800,000 pounds to food banks this year. We’re not alone. More than 100 growers donate more than 50 varieties of farm products to the California Association of Food Banks. But there are 76,000 farmers and ranchers in this state, and we’re calling on more of our peers to get involved.

Every pound of fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, eggs or other California farm product donated to Farm to Family doesn’t just represent a “do-good” gesture by the grower. It can make sense for a producer’s business operations.

Outright donations are always accepted, but there are also times when the California Association of Food Banks can help farmers recoup some harvesting costs. A few cents per pound can go a long way when the alternative is zero money coming in the door and zero product leaving the facility.

There are also tax incentives, including a federal tax deduction and a state tax credit, which farmers can use to make Farm to Family even more attractive on paper. These are some appealing business reasons for getting involved, but even more important, contributing California farm products to food banks is simply the right thing to do.

One in six adults in California experience food insecurity. Alarmingly, one in four children struggle to get enough to eat. More than half of those served by the Community Action Partnership of Kern Food Bank are children. Many food recipients at local pantries, churches and soup kitchens are simply down on their luck. They work hard to make ends meet. But when they open their wallets at the grocery store and see limited dollars available, they have to make tough decisions.

Wonderful Citrus will continue to supply food banks with citrus and other products. We want to be part of the solution to alleviate hunger in our neighborhoods and in our state. But we don’t want to do it alone. We want other Kern County growers, ranchers, packers and shippers to get involved.

Instead of letting product waste away in the cooler or in the field, all of us at The Wonderful Company hope you will join us and encourage your fellow farmers to contact Steve Linkhart, Farm to Family Director, at (510) 350-9916 or stevelinkhart@cafoodbanks.org to discuss how to get product from your field or cooler to the people who really need it. Transportation and logistics are the program’s strong suit. They understand how farm businesses operate and will work quickly to handle your product.

Whether you’re a large company, small grower, or resident with fruit from your backyard tree to share, consider donating to food banks. Together we can make a real difference in the health and lives of our neighbors.

David Krause is president of Wonderful Citrus.