The following article was posted on April 23rd, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun – Volume 15, Issue 7
BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
The walk-in cooler at the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria facility is filling up slower and moving produce out faster than it has in the past.
This is partially attributable to environmental factors like the drought, Jamie Nichols, food bank director of operations, told the Sun after an April 16 press conference. Farmers’ yields are lower because of the lack of rain, as well as state water delivery issues. Nichols said lower yields up the pressure farmers feel to make their harvests stretch. Those things that characterize a fruit or vegetable as not good enough for grocery store shelves—blemishes and shape—don’t apply this year.
All of those factors add up to the food bank simply not getting produce delivered like it used to.
Nichols said the food bank used to get regularly delivered truckloads of stone fruit, tomatoes, and melons—often for free.
“Those supplies have just been cut off,” Nichols said. “That’s not happening anymore.”
Food Bank Chief Executive Officer Erik Talkin said during the press briefing that produce is in shorter supply and more expensive than it has been in years past. Talkin added that fresh produce is a huge part of the Food Bank’s mission; it’s a necessary part of the food literacy programs offered by the organization, as well as for the health of the people they serve.
“We can’t just switch to frozen or canned vegetables,” Talkin said.
He explained that 55 percent of the Food Bank’s product is fresh produce that’s either bought or donated. Usually, it costs the organization about $1 million a year to bring it in, this year it will cost an additional $200,000.
During the press conference, Nichols said that although the U.S. Department of Agriculture is allocating some emergency funds for programs like the Santa Barbara’s Food Bank, that will only cover 15 percent of the organizations that need it.
“We’re going to need help securing fresh produce,” Nichols said. “It’s important we secure the funds and resources we’re going to need to sustain it.”