Although it doesn’t feel like it now, we know that spring is right around the corner. We will wake up one day and the sun will have melted most of the snow, leaving only steadfast patches of ice hanging on for the last of the winter season. The ground will be soggy and we’ll hear birds in the morning again. To people involved in helping to feed Michigan, this day will inspire the plotting, planning and tilling of land.
Those little birds will surely be chirping around Michigan food banks. Spring is the season to roll out our produce programs! Many of the food banks have close relationships to local farmers that supply them with thousands of pounds of purchased and donated produce. A handful of food banks have taken to farming themselves, planting and harvesting for the good of their community. Michigan food banks also support community gardening initiatives, helping to teach folks to grow their own food in urban and suburban areas.
Let’s take a minute and salute the Michigan farmer. Collectively, Michigan farmers produce over 300 commodity foods commercially. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, our state ranks second to California for agricultural diversity. We rank first in the nation for the production of many beans and produce, including black beans, cranberry beans, blueberries, pickling cucumbers and tart cherries. That is pretty remarkable.
In the summer months, our staff visits many Michigan farmers to learn more about their operations and develop partnerships for feeding the hungry. Each family has been wonderful and welcoming. Although the farms we’ve visited have been unique in character and operation, we have found one commonality among Michigan farmers: they really care about what they do. Their commitment to farming and feeding people is not taken lightly. It is not a nine- to- five job, it is a lifestyle.
The Food Bank Council of Michigan helps to support food banks in our state by coordinating a couple different agricultural programs. One program contracts with local farmers ahead of the growing season to plant specifically for food banks. Another program rescues produce that would normally go to waste because although fresh, healthy and undamaged, the produce does not meet retailer specifications. All across our state, organizations are busy taking advantage of our rich agricultural resources in order to reduce hunger for our residents.
When picturing this abundant landscape of fresh produce, it is hard to imagine people suffering hunger in the summer. Summer is actually one of the hardest times of year for children. 742,451 children in Michigan qualify for free and reduced lunches at school, which is about 48% of all our kids. During the summer, these young ones are not able to rely on food that they receive in school. Families who are already struggling to afford groceries are stretching their budgets even thinner to buy food for their children in summer months.
Stay tuned to learn how you can take action to reduce childhood hunger in the summertime.