The Biden administration hinted that the Farmers to Families Food Box program may end, and USDA confirmed it.
It was funded through the end of April, so it was always likely to end in a few weeks.
The good news for the produce industry is that USDA will return to a fresh produce box program that will run through food banks.
USDA said it will be paid through pandemic assistance funding that supplements the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) through Sept. 30. However, a USDA spokesperson said the budget for it hasn’t been determined.
The boxes will be 10-12 pounds and contain 3-5 pounds of vegetables, 3-5 pounds of fruit and at least two locally grown items if available.
The United Fresh Produce Association’s BB #:145458 Produce Box Working Group presented USDA with a set of 30 recommendations at the end of March that hoped would help guide a new program around produce food boxes.
The biggest request was a return to produce-only boxes.
USDA is also replacing hunger relief from food boxes with $170 million in specialty crop block grants and $75 million in the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, which helps low-income consumers buy fruits and vegetables.
The Trump administration’s food box program was a huge program that moved quickly at the beginning of the pandemic last spring and made changes throughout. USDA has spent more than $4 billion on it, delivering more than 156 million boxes through mid-April.
However, it has been criticized for waste, inefficiency and pricing problems, both on the high and low ends.
Blue Book has covered the program extensively, talking to USDA, analysts and many produce companies who have fulfilled contracts.
The Farmers to Families Food Box program no doubt had its problems, but every produce company we talked to were proud to have helped farmers find markets for their fruits and vegetables and helped feed hungry Americans who were in need.
We would like to see a public-private partnership continue, in whatever form, to help feed needy consumers with the most nutritious fruits and vegetables.