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Produce leaders meet with USDA on food box program

Infographic showing the USDA partnering with farmers, distributors, and non-profits to provide access to food during COVID.

From Tom Stenzel, CEO & President, United Fresh Produce Association BB #:145458, and Cathy Burns, CEO, Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708

May 29, 2020
Dear produce industry member,

This afternoon, we had a lengthy virtual meeting with USDA officials who have direct responsibility for the Farmers to Families food box program. The USDA team organized the meeting in response to our earlier joint letter offering input on the program as it continues to roll out across the country.

We had an open and candid dialogue on many topics we have each heard from our members, including challenges faced in the RFP process, and discussion about how the program is operating today. We’re pleased to report that USDA’s tracking data show that more than 3 million boxes have already been delivered.

As this program is just two weeks into operation, USDA is evaluating everything they are learning from current contracts and developing new plans for a second round beginning July 1. We heard about extensive analysis and audits to verify what is actually taking place under current contracts, which gives us confidence in USDA’s oversight of the program.

While a specific course ahead is not yet official, USDA shared that their current thinking is that current contract holders who are demonstrating excellence in fulfilling their contracts will have the opportunity to be considered for extension in the next round. Also, they believe new offerors will be considered, particularly where there are unmet needs to serve people in need.

We then discussed ways that USDA might make improvements as they continue the program. The USDA team was very open and receptive to suggestions we’ve heard from you about how to best meet the needs of food banks, serving regions that are now under-served, providing diversity of commodities, and better demonstrating capabilities in the bidding process. We reaffirmed that we believe one of the goals of the program is to support companies that have suffered from the loss of foodservice business.

We applaud those of you are working hard to deliver fresh produce through this program today, and urge any others who want to be part of the program to be on the lookout for how you might be considered in the future. As we know, there will likely be many more bidders who offer their services than dollars or contracts allow, but we believe the process will continue to improve with a mutual industry and USDA goal to achieve maximum success for the program.

We will communicate any more details through our regular channels as we learn more.