University of Maryland Extension

Update on the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program

Box of vegetables and fruit
Image Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg, UMD AGNR

Update on the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program:
Potential market opportunity for wholesale vegetable and fruit producers

5/13/2020

Neith Little, UMD Extension

 

Some of the growers I work with asked me whether they should apply to the new USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs. I spent some time over the past couple of weeks reading up and attending USDA webinars on one of the two programs, called “Farmers to Families Food Box Program,” and I want to share what I learned with you. The short version is that I would be very surprised if the distributors assembling the food boxes offer prices high enough to attract direct-market growers. However, if you are a grower used to selling to wholesalers, auctions, or institutional customers, it might be worth looking at the list of distributors selected to assemble and distribute the boxes.

Details are just coming out now about the other program under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program umbrella, “Direct Support to Farmers and Ranchers.” USDA will be holding a webinar on the “Direct Support to Farmers and Ranchers” program on Thursday, March 14, at 1pm EST: https://www.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_SPWI7yOFSqaGG1JKzhEbjA
Keep an eye out for information about this program at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap

 

Broad updates on agricultural Covid-19 relief programs

On April 27 Farmers Legal Action Group updated their “Farmers Guide to Covid-19 relief”: https://go.umd.edu/flagcovid  

The guide is a helpful summary of the different relief programs that relate to farmers, including the Small Business Administration programs, the Paycheck Protection Program, and the USDA’s Food Assistance Program. FLAG’s guide is a great, concise summary of the relief programs, but the writing is a little technical. So I would also highly recommend keeping an eye on UMD’s Ag Law Education Initiative’s blog posts about Covid-19 issues: 
http://umaglaw.org/legal-resources/covid-19-resources/

 

USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program

One program that might be of interest to wholesale fruit and vegetable producers is the USDA Food Assistance Program (pp. 41-42 of the FLAG guide). The USDA Food Assistance Program includes funds allocated in the CARES act to USDA to purchase fresh produce, dairy products, and pre-cooked meat to be distributed to food banks, schools, and other non-profits distributing emergency food assistance.

The USDA Ag Marketing Service website gathers information about this emergency program which is being called “Farmers to Families Food Box Program”:
https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box

Basically, how the program will work is that the USDA will contract with distributors who will purchase eligible foods produced in the United States, assemble those foods into family-size boxes, and deliver the boxes to local non-profits (such as food banks and schools) which will distribute the boxes to people in need.

Due to the emergency nature of this situation, the USDA has been moving very quickly, much more so than is usual for government contracting. The Request for Proposals (RFP) for contractors to assemble and distribute food boxes was opened April 24, closed May 1, and awarded contracts were recently announced. The distributors awarded contracts in the MidAtlantic are listed here:

https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box/approved-contractors/mid-atlantic

Although the RFP for distributors is closed, the contracted distributors have leeway to purchase from new suppliers throughout the length of their contract. So the contracted distributors might be a potential market for fruit and vegetable producers used to selling to wholesalers, auctions, or large-scale institutional customers.


What about the Direct Support to Farmers and Ranchers Program?

This is the other half of the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. It will be administered through the Farm Service Agency. Details are just coming out now. USDA will be holding a webinar on Thursday, March 14, at 1pm EST: https://www.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_SPWI7yOFSqaGG1JKzhEbjA
Keep an eye out for information about this program at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap

 

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