January 8, 2018
New program to put local produce in their hands and support Ky. fruit and vegetable growers
Commissioner Ryan Quarles has said it before, and he’ll say it again: It is unacceptable to have a hunger problem in a state so steeped in agricultural history.
So on Monday, the leader of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture announced a new incentive program that will further attempt to end hunger while supporting local fruit and vegetable growers.
Specifically, the first-of-its-kind program will combat food insecurity for Kentucky children by encouraging administrators of free summer meals programs to purchase more fruits and vegetables from area farmers, Quarles said at the Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Lexington.
Currently, one in five Kentucky kids are considered food insecure, meaning they don’t always know where they’ll find their next meal, Quarles said. The summer programs — run by churches, community centers and other organizations — are designed to provide those kids free meals in months when they aren’t getting lunch at school.
In 2016, summer programs statewide served approximately 2.8 million meals estimated to cost more than $9 million, Quarles said. At least $600,000 of that total was spent on vegetables alone.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses the programs for each meal they serve. But now, Quarles hopes to encourage programs to purchase more fruits and vegetables from local farmers by offering a second reimbursement.
Through the new Kentucky-grown Fruit and Vegetable Incentive Program, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will reimburse summer programs one-third of the dollars they spend on produce from Kentucky farmers.
Money for the program was granted by the Kentucky Agriculture Development Board, which designated $185,000 in tobacco settlement funds to the program’s first year, Quarles said.
That amount should equate to about $550,000 spent on Kentucky-grown fruits and vegetables by summer meal programs that decide to participate.
Administrators of the summer programs often think local produce is too expensive or too much of a hassle to purchase, Quarles said.
To combat those hurdles, Quarles said the department of agriculture will work with the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Association of Food Banks to inform summer meal programs of the incentive and to connect them with nearby farmers.
“The point is to create a financial incentive to look to Kentucky farmers first,” Quarles said. “… We can help kids who do not have access to stable foods and leverage dollars to support local farmers.”
To participate in the incentive program, summer meal sponsors must be approved by the Kentucky Department of Education. They must also submit a K-VIP Enrollment application to the Kentucky Association of Food Banks at kykidseat.org/kvip by April 15.
Enrolled sponsors will be required to submit reimbursement claims to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture by Sept. 15 and will receive their payments on or about Oct. 31.
By Bailey Loosemore