Published By Palatka Daily News
The coronavirus outbreak put a cloud over Putnam County’s economy and local farmers are not immune to the economic loss.
To benefit farmers in North Florida, the Putnam-St. Johns Farm Bureau spent more than $39,000 to buy produce from local farms.
On Monday, Shepard’s Haven Food Pantry in Hastings gave the produce to community members in need for free.
Wendy Smith, the women’s committee chairwoman for the bureau, said 300 bags of fresh produce were given. Buying produce helps local farmers because they are struggling with the lack of restaurant demand and outside competitors, Smith said.
“Our farmers are competing with foreign farms,” she said. “It’s hard to compete with that.”
She recommended checking grocery store labels to see if the products are from Florida or other American farms. Produce stands in Putnam County such as County Line Produce and The Stand get their produce locally, and buying from them would support local farmers during coronavirus.
She said people who received produce Monday were grateful. Although there have been discussions, there is no set date for another pantry giveaway.
Bureau President Brian Jones said the group plans to give away 700 bags of food to people sometime next week.
Jones, also a St. Augustine potato farmer, said he was thrilled with the amount of produce that came from Putnam County and St. Johns County farms Monday.
“We just tried to help a little bit,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is fill in and help out (farmers) where we can.”
Jones said Barnes Farm in Hastings, Clay Ranch Berry Farm and L&M Farms in East Palatka were major participants in Monday’s giveaway.
“There’s still a lot of hurt out there,” Jones said. “If we can help out in any way we can, I think that’s what we’re called to do.”
Meanwhile, there was preliminary discussion about a possible local drive-thru farmer’s market during Monday’s online meeting of the Putnam County Economic Recovery Task Force. Members of the task force said that a drive-thru market would help local farmers with produce to sell as well as residents.
“We’re still trying to iron out the details,” said Charlie Douglas, chairman of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
Nikki Fried, commissioner for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said last month the Florida Seasonal Crop COVID-19 Impact Assessment projects losses for state agriculture upward of $522 million.
Fried said Florida farmers should sign up for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Purchasing Program. The organization will buy extra food from farms and agricultural producers to give to communities across the United States.
“As farmers deal with difficult markets and food banks face increased demand, USDA purchasing is a much-needed tool to help move Florida-grown products from our farms to people in need,” Fried said in a statement. “This federal assistance will support Florida’s farmers facing losses, will move perishable crops to food banks and pantries, and will help communities facing food insecurity due to COVID-19.”
More information can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food.