State farmers aid in food bank needs

Gary T. Cecil of Cecil Farms holds a watermelon from this year’s harvest outside an old bus that is used to carry the produce.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky food banks have seen a 30% increase in Kentuckians seeking the service because of food insecurity.

For many, this is their first time experiencing an inability to afford food and having to utilize a food bank, said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

“These first-time clients show how dire of an economic crisis that Kentucky faces as things stay closed,” he said. “If someone is struggling to put food on their table, they should not hesitate to use these resources.”

While a strain has been put on state food banks, Quarles’ 2016 Kentucky Hunger Initiative has stood up to help not only food banks, but also the state’s agriculture community through using donations and resources created by the initiative to support farmers facing hard times as well as Kentuckians facing food insecurity, he said.

“The goal of the program was to connect the agriculture community to our food banks,” he said. “Over the past few years, those relationships have strengthened and in this time of great need have culminated in more Kentucky-grown and (Kentucky) Proud products serving Kentuckians in need. It has been a tremendous accomplishment. Not only have Kentuckians stepped up with donations but our agriculture community has been brought to the forefront as the vital aspect of our state that they are.”

In Owensboro-Daviess County, the Cecil Farms family have not only benefited from the initiative but have also been proud to aid in the KDA’s battle to address food insecurity, said Suzanne Cecil White.

“We love to participate, and it has been a positive thing,” she said. “We have been involved for the past few years, and we love knowing that nothing that we grow goes to waste. Many of the school districts buy produce from our distributor, and the program has put a focus on incentives on school districts to buy more local and state produce. It is a big circle, and if our produce is going into the homes and mouths of Kentucky families, well, it doesn’t get much better than that. We had Henderson County Schools recently purchase 900 watermelons to give to each family in their meals program. Really, it has been heartwarming. People are coming to the farm for produce that have never been here before. It is butterflies all of the time, and it is honor to serve this community and people around the state.”

Thus far, Purnell has donated 10,000 pounds of sausage and “Kentucky Proud” providers from around the state are not only being compensated but stepping up to the late, Quarles said.

“We have received 5,000 pounds of cheese ... as well as 48,000 hamburger patties, 560,000 eggs from western Kentucky as well as milk being delivered for free across the state from producers,” Quarles said. “Those are only a handful of examples. We have also had an outpouring of financial donations. The Kentucky Farm Bureau donated $500,000 to go toward buying Kentucky commodity products from our agriculture community to support the farmers and combat hunger insecurity. Farmers have taken in on the chin as well, and this program and these uncertain times have allowed the those in the agriculture community to be reintroduced to people that may or may not have had the opportunity to know those local or state growers before.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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