The COVID-19 pandemic made its way from the coasts into the heartland in 2020, bringing economic hardship to rural communities and food banks struggled to keep up with the increased demand.

State and county Farm Bureaus across the U.S. stepped up to help their neighbors in need, donating $5.4 million and 1.4 million pounds of food to local food banks, food pantries and pandemic relief programs, according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. Duvall shared the news with reporters just prior to the 2021 AFBF Convention, held virtually Jan. 10 to 13.

“Farm Bureau has always stepped up to help our communities, especially in times of disaster and crisis, and this was no exception,” Duvall said in a press release. Donations ranged from an individual farm donating a dozen pounds of cheese, to county Farm Bureaus donated hundreds of dollars or pounds of food to their local food banks, to state Farm Bureaus collecting and donating six-figure monetary donations.

One such project was the Producers Partnership, spearheaded by Montana Farm Bureau member Matt Pierson. The partnership started in late April 2020 with a simple idea, Pierson explained. “Take in donated animals, and process them in federally inspected facilities,” he said. “Pay for the processing and donate the meat to the local food center and along the way provide a tax deduction for those donating money and the producers donating animals.” During the pandemic it donated 53,000 pounds of ground beef, connecting producers directly with those in need, he added.

The Producers Partnership grew during the pandemic, and now it has a board of directors and 501c3 status so that it can apply for state and local grants. It’s now planning to build and open its own federally inspected processing facility, further helping Montanans in need but also providing producers a processing outlet for their direct-to-consumer sales.

Additionally, according to AFBF, staff and members volunteered thousands of hours of time to coordinate logistics for food distribution programs, deliver groceries, donating and distributing thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer, and distributing millions of masks and other Personal Protective Equipment to help their communities weather the pandemic. Farm Bureaus also organized community fundraisers for relief efforts and raised money to donate to healthcare workers affected by COVID-19.

#StillFarming

At the beginning of the pandemic stay-at-home precautions in March 2020, consumers started to see empty grocery store shelves, and there were concerns that there wouldn’t be enough food for the nation. AFBF not only worked to educate consumers about the slow supply shifts from institutional to retail outlets, but also worked to build public confidence in American farmers and ranchers keeping the shelves stocked. AFBF launched the #StillFarming campaign online to share members’ stories of farming and then also debuted a line of #StillFarming merchandise with half of the sale proceeds benefitting the Feeding America organization and half earmarked for the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture to help in its farm education efforts.

During the pandemic, those farm education efforts from the foundation found new audiences as teaching moved from the classroom to the home. David Malone, executive director of the foundation said the staff worked to ramp up the amount of available educational resources for families now teaching their children at home, including the My American Farm online game, a weekly updated educational section on its website with activities that families could do from home, and more. The #StillFarming campaign proceeds helped Farm Bureau ensure that the countries children were still learning about farming, even from home.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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