Produce Working Group Seeks Food Box Program Adjustments

Brian German Agri-Business, Industry

A coalition of industry groups has provided suggestions for making the next food box program more successful. United Fresh Produce Association’s Produce Box Working Group submitted feedback in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) call for comments. The produce working group provided a 13-page document containing 30 recommendations for a successor to the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

Produce Working Group

More than 100 individuals and companies comprise the working group, including the California Farm Bureau Federation and Western Growers. United Fresh had brought together industry stakeholders back in November to establish priorities for the development of a new food box program. The working group represents the interests of growers, shippers, distributors, wholesalers, non-profit organizations, and trade associations. After several months of deliberation, the working group affirmed the need for a USDA program to benefit the produce supply chain along with needy families.

One of the prevailing recommendations is the return to produce-only food boxes. The working group agreed that the produce-only format would better serve the purpose of a food box program. Another primary recommendation is the elimination of using low cost as a determining factor for contract decisions. The belief is that emphasizing price in contract decisions limits produce selections and reduces the potential quality of food boxes. The working group also calls for expanded, smaller contracts that will include multiple awards in states and USDA regions.

Other recommendations for a future food box program include expanding the timeline for applications and contract lengths. The group also advocates for using a scoring criterion during the bid assessment process to ensure equity in contract opportunities.  Recommendations for box composition include improvements to product portions and the inclusion of ready-to-eat products. The non-profit organizations included in the working group would also like to see more USDA outreach and the development of a non-profit database.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West