The new food assistance program has an emphasis on teaming up local farmers and producers with underserved communities to provide healthier food options through food banks.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson announced the launch of the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement. This partnership will link The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) along with food banks and farmers across the state.
MDAC has teamed up with three Feeding America affiliated food banks: Mississippi Food Network, Mid-South Food Bank and Feeding the Gulf Coast. The effort will work to ensure that the communities these food banks serve have access to locally grown, produced and processed food. Dr. Charles Beady, Jr., CEO of the MS Food Network, Michael Ledger, CEO & President of Feeding the Gulf Coast, and Cathy Pope, CEO & President of Mid-South Food Bank were all present at the announcement on Wednesday.
“Local food is important. Matter of fact, I would say, there is no more important issue in the world we live in today than local, Mississippi food,” said Commissioner Andy Gipson.
This program is the first of its kind in the state and is aimed at connecting Mississippi farmers with people in need, that do not always have the resources or access to procuring healthy, locally sourced food.
The partnership with local and federal entities has been initially set up for 2 years with a $3 million investment from the USDA. Those funds will be used to purchase local produce from local farmers. Gipson and those representing food banks all said they hope to continue the work this program will begin for many years to come.
Foods that can be purchased and distributed include: fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, rice, eggs, meat, dairy, and processed value added products.
With the announcement of the program, Gipson also urged farmers across the state to make sure they signed up to be considered distributers for the food banks. You can click the link below or visit www.mdac.ms.gov/msfp to sign up. Food banks will access this database to make purchases for local produce.
“Farmers and businesses who produces these foods can sign up starting now and prepare to provide and make a great impact in a positive way in people’s lives who are in need,” said Gipson.
Gipson said the program comes as a response to multiple challenges being faced across the U.S., from supply chain issues, to shortages, and increased fuel costs. He added that this program not only helps families in need of food, but supports local farmers who have born much of the burden of inflation over the last two years.
For farmers, the increased costs to continue have doubled in many ways such as fertilizer and feed as well as fuel and transportation.
“I want to thank our farmers for not stopping,” said Gipson.
He said the rising concern over the Mississippi River has mounted issues being faced by local suppliers, with transportation on the river down 80%.
“As you all know the Mississippi River is going dry. Now that is a historic moment. We’ve been watching that and we’ve been preparing,” said Gipson. “This is a moment we have to rise to the challenge and announce this program in such a way that we are going to connect Mississippi’s local producers, these farmers, with these food banks.”
Agriculture in the state’s largest industry, producing over $8 billion in products last year. This was an all time record. He said the new program will not only have a benefit for Mississippi consumers now, but years to come with more and more access to local products. Other programs have been kicked off through MDAC over the years to encourage buying local like, the Mississippi Market Bulletin, Mississippi Farmers Market, and Genuine Mississippi.
Gipson commended the local food banks in the state, saying they are doing “the Lord’s work” reaching out to families in need, children, and the elderly who need access to food.
As more and more farmers are added to the database, Gipson said they plan to begin distribution to food banks by January of 2023.