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U.S. Trade Disputes Diverting Surplus to Food Banks but Money for Distribution Is Scarce

America’s trade disputes have decreased the export of many food products, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture is buying surplus from farmers and distributing it through what’s called ‘trade mitigation’ programs. 

One Kentucky food bank director said the organization is short on funding required to get the perishables to families in need.

At Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland in Elizabethtown, two tractor-trailer loads of apples from Michigan arrived recently, as well as a tractor-trailer full of potatoes. USDA surplus coming in also includes oranges, almonds, pistachios and canned pork in the form of barbecue or taco filling. More milk and cheese are due in.

Executive Director Jamie Sizemore said the food bank is accepting all the food that’s available, especially because the fresh produce is a healthy addition to the usual items that have a longer shelf life. The perishables have to be distributed in refrigerated trucks and quality control must be maintained at all times.

Sizemore said the troubling side of the extra food is that the distribution budget was stretched before the surplus, and now it’s a serious challenge.

“With this additional food coming in, with the trade mitigation, we’re getting a little bit to cover the cost, but not near enough, not even close to being enough,” said Sizemore. “It takes 11 cents a pound, for our operation at this particular food bank, to distribute food out into the communities and we’re getting something like three cents a pound.”

Sizemore said food banks have been asking Congress to provide more funds for distribution, but most of the funding comes from grants or corporate and individual donations. She said for now, the food bank is taking money from other projects to get the perishable food distributed, in hopes of making up the expenses in the long-term.

Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland serves 42 counties, including Barren, Hardin, Warren and others with hundreds of rural miles to cover to deliver to food pantries, soup kitchens and other nutrition programs like Boys and Girls clubs afterschool centers.

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