By Matt Reese
As I child I did not necessarily look forward to getting up early for sunrise Easter service at our small United Methodist church in northwest Ohio, but I did always look forward to several aspects of the event. These things included beautiful Easter hymns (often played by my mother on the piano), the most important message of the year and the delicious potluck breakfast/brunch between the sunrise service and regular service on Easter Sunday. Those Methodist ladies knew how to cook! I’d go through the line once to get a little bit of everything and then make a second pass to re-sample my favorites.
Food plays an important role in our culture and is often a staple of many of the events we look forward to with family and friends each year. Many families around Ohio, though, do not enjoy such luxury because they face food insecurity issues.
According to the Ohio Association of Food Banks, from July 2022 to September 2022, Ohio’s foodbanks and their partner food pantries served 42% more people than during the same quarter in 2021 — providing take-home groceries nearly 3 million times in just 3 months. The statewide network of 3,600 local faith-based and community organizations providing food and other resources struggled to sustain this response as pandemic support phased out for Ohio families with low or fixed incomes.
The inflation of 2022 pushed meat, fish, and egg prices up 12.5% over 2021 and led to dramatic increases in rent, transportation and heating costs. During the same timeframe, farmers saw steep increases in input costs and thinning margins, reducing opportunities for excess production for food donations.
And the problem is certainly not confined to Ohio. Across the nation, more than 34 million people (including 9 million children) are food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food insecurity exists in every county and congressional district in the country.
The impact of the situation leaves a tough reality for many, including a heartbreaking number of children, but also opportunities for agriculture to once again rise to the occasion to help. Most recently — at a time while poultry feed and packaging costs remain high, and egg prices in grocery stores are also high — the American Egg Board coordinated the “Fighting Hunger by the Dozens” initiative that provided more than 3 million eggs to food banks who serve local communities around the country leading up to Easter. This effort included four Ohio Poultry Association members: Cooper Farms of Fort Recovery, Hertzfeld Poultry Farms of Grand Rapids, Weaver Eggs of Versailles, and Trillium Farms of Hartford. These farms are joining more than 20 farms around the country to provide much-needed protein to food banks.
• March 27 Cooper Farms donated 54,000 eggs to the West Ohio Food Bank in Lima
• March 28 Weaver Eggs donated 54,000 eggs to The Foodbank, Inc. in Dayton
• March 29 Hertzfeld Poultry Farms donated 64,800 eggs to the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank
• April 3 Trillium Farms donated 108,000 eggs to the Food Pantry Network of Licking County in Newark.
This, of course, is just one example of many in Ohio agriculture stepping up to help feed the hungry. Ohio’s agricultural organizations and farms have long supported hunger relief efforts. Last fall, Ohio pig farmers, through Ohio Pork Council and the National Pork Board, partnered with country music superstar Luke Bryan’s fall Farm Tour to donate more than 160,000 servings of protein to Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio.
Another way for Ohio agriculture to contribute to those in need is through the Community + Agriculture + Nutrition (CAN) program with the Ohio Department of Agriculture introduced late last year. Through the program, farmers and producers whose products are grown and produced within 400 miles of Columbus are eligible to sell food to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The products will then be distributed to Ohioans in need through the 12 Feeding America foodbanks and 3,600 member charities across all 88 counties. For more, visit agri.ohio.gov/divisions/markets/resources/Ohio-CAN.
“Ohio’s foodbanks are grateful to be participating in this innovative public-private partnership between USDA, the State of Ohio, local farmers, growers, producers, and vendors, and our hunger relief network,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. “It comes at a critical time, when more Ohio families are counting on us to help them put wholesome food on the table.”
Thanks to all who continually step up to help the ongoing challenge of hunger in Ohio.