Farm to Food Bank – A Fresh Approach to Fighting Hunger

Partnership Addresses Environmental Issues, Helps Oklahomans Facing Hunger

Last June, the Oklahoma Food Banks and the Conservation Partnership joined together to fight hunger while conserving natural resources. Through Farm to Food Bank, a pilot project that implements practices that increase the health of soil, Oklahoma farmers volunteered to plant and donate up to eight acres of cover crops to the Oklahoma Food Banks. Over the last year, nearly 7,000 pounds of fresh produce were harvested, providing 5,812 meals to chronically hungry children, seniors on fixed income and families working to put food on the table.

“For many of our Oklahoma neighbors, eating healthy is not about not knowing what foods to choose; it is often about not being able to afford or not having access to more healthful choices,” said Katie Fitzgerald, chief executive officer of the Regional Food Bank. “That’s why the Farm to Food Bank program is so important. We want to thank our partners and celebrate this relationship, which will continue to provide nutritious food to our neighbors who need it the most.”

 Kirby Smith, field representative for Congressman Frank Lucas, picks squash for Farm to Food Bank project in Leedey, Okla.

Kirby Smith, field representative for Congressman Frank Lucas, picks squash for Farm to Food Bank project in Leedey, Okla.

Cover crops, like squash and okra, are staples in a healthy diet. The Oklahoma Food Banks, which consists of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, place a priority on increasing the volume of fresh fruits and vegetables distributed statewide. Last year alone, the Regional Food Bank distributed more than 12.7 million pounds of produce to clients, representing 24 percent of the nonprofit’s total distribution. That number is expected to increase this year.

The following farm owners participate in the Farm to Food Bank program: Oscar & Bergundy Nelson in Chickasha, Brett Peshek in Apache, Sally Hulling in Turpin, Jimmy Emmons in Leedey, Shane O’Daniel, John Flaming, Brad Perkins and Nathan Miller in Custer County, Trey Lam in Pauls Valley and Abbie Ashley in Garfield County. Produce gleaned from the farms benefit the following Regional Food Bank community-based partners:  HELP of Elk City, the Weatherford Food & Resource Center; Moore Food & Resource Center, Resurrection House in Chickasha and Vici Senior Center.

One in six Oklahomans has inconsistent access to healthy food, which can lead to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases. As a result, Oklahoma ranks among the 10 worst states for many key health indicators, including cardiovascular and diabetes deaths.

“Fresh produce is one of our most needed donations, and can also be one of the hardest donations for us to source,” said Fitzgerald. “The Farm to Food Bank pilot project will help the Oklahoma Food Banks in continuing to provide healthy, fresh food options for our clients.”

Farm to Food Bank is made possible through a partnership among the United States Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS)*, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. The seed for the project was donated by Green Cover Seed and Ross Seed.

The Conservation Partnership views this partnership as a revitalization of the stewardship ethic of natural resource conservation; that belief of taking care of the soil, water and air. This is more than about just feeding the soil or people.

“Soil health is based on feeding the community of organisms below the ground, just as the Oklahoma Food Banks are feeding the communities here in Oklahoma,” said Trey Lam, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “It seems a natural fit to partner with the Oklahoma Food Banks; we can do more when we work together.”

Last fiscal year, the Oklahoma Food Banks distributed more than 73.1 million pounds of food and products through a network of more than 1,700 charitable feeding programs and schools across Oklahoma.

Join the nonprofit in making it a hunger-free summer for seniors, families and children. Every dollar donated to the Regional Food Bank will provide the equivalent of four meals for Oklahomans living with hunger. Donate online at regionalfoodbank.org or call 405-600-3136.