The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved $1.2 billion in contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. USDA will be purchasing fresh produce, meat, and dairy from farmers and ranchers to be dispersed through foodbanks and other nonprofit organizations. Purchases under the program could total up to $3 billion, as part of a $19 billion coronavirus relief program that was announced last month.
“This is a new, innovative approach to provide critical support to American farmers and families, and USDA moved as expeditiously as federal procurement rules allow to stand up the program and solicit offers,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a news release. “We were pleased to see the abundance of interest from both food distributors and non-profit organizations. Within days, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will begin distributing surplus food, while safeguarding food safety techniques, to communities across the country where it’s needed most.”
While appreciative of the program, President and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, Tom Stenzel has raised several questions related to how contracts were awarded and how the program is going to function moving forward. In a letter addressed to USDA Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Bruce Summers, Stenzel asked for more clarity and transparency in the program. “This is not “sour grapes” from those that may not have been awarded; this is a genuine effort to ensure integrity and confidence in the program and that fresh produce actually gets to those in need in an efficient and cost-effective way,” Stenzel wrote.
While a list of approved contractors has been made available on the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service website, Stenzel asked USDA if the full proposals of those who were awarded contracts will be released. “We are advising our members who were denied bids to contact the AMS team to request a specific review of their application and grounds for denial,” said Stenzel.