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Plan to salvage surplus produce could feed millions across Florida

Feeding Florida estimates millions in the state don’t know where their next meal will come from. Salvaging more produce could have a significant impact.

HILLIARD, Florida — Nearly one million Florida children are at risk of going hungry every night.

It’s an alarming number that has farms, food banks and state leaders looking for solutions. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried explained one answer is to salvage perfectly surplus produce that would otherwise be tossed out.

Buds of romaine and sprouting butter lettuce are grown under the greenhouse at Traders Hill Farms in Hilliard.

The aquaponic system already reduces waste and how much they grow. However, even the most sustainable farms can wind-up with more than they can sell.

"It’s good food," Rachel Clark from Trader Hill Farms said. "It’s nutritional food. We take pride in what we grow and how we grow it." 

Commissioner Fried is calling for a bill that would set aside $500,000 to help save fresh produce what might otherwise go to waste or be plowed over.

“By helping move leftover produce from fields to food banks, we can reduce food waste, break the cycle of food insecurity and provide families in need with fresh-from-Florida nutrition,” Commissioner Fried announced.

Feeding Northeast Florida estimates a quarter of a million people in their eight-county service area don’t know where their next meal will come from. Salvaging more produce could make a major impact.

"It would be enormously helpful," Feeding Northeast Florida CEO Susan King said. "It takes a combination of all the factors available to get this food to people who need it most."

At Traders Hill Farms, they’ve already partnered with food banks and are hoping others in the industry will follow suit.

"If we do not have the product sold or it’s not getting picked up by our distributors, we call Feeding Northeast Florida and we do have other nonprofits that we can donate it," Clark said.

Inside the warehouse of Feeding Northeast Florida, boxes of dry goods are packed up and ready for distribution. King said a global conversation finds itself at the intersection of health and hunger.

"Feeding people is not the same as providing nutritious food for people and there are so many health issues that can benefit from better nutrition," King said.

The bill to fund more of the food salvaging efforts across the state is expected to be introduced in the 2020 legislative session.

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