Publix buys 400,000 pounds of produce from farmers to donate to the hungry

Publix is donating hundreds of thousands of pounds of produce and milk to food banks that the grocery store giant purchased from farmers who are struggling because of coronavirus.

As the pandemic shuts down restaurants across the country, Florida farmers have lost crops they’ve been unable to sell because of the deep dive in demand. Hank Scott, president of Zellwood’s Long & Scott Farms, said Thursday 48,000 pounds of his cucumbers were going to the Publix initiative, a “drop in the bucket” compared with the 3 million pounds he’s been forced to leave unharvested in his 400 acres of cucumber fields.

“Donation is a wonderful thing,” Scott said. “It will never keep you in business.”

Lakeland-based Publix is giving what it buys to Feeding America member food banks. By the end of Friday, the company was expected to have donated nearly 400,000 pounds of produce and 47,000 gallons of milk, spokeswoman Maria Brous said.

The business has made donations totaling $2 million to Feeding America food banks during the pandemic, according to an April 22 news release.

Brous added the initiative will continue, and some produce may come from the same farms.

Publix has stepped up at the right time for Kalera, a vertical farm company with a 2,000-square-foot indoor growing site at the Orlando World Center Marriott and another, larger facility that just opened on Conway Road near the airport.

Kalera normally provides lettuce to the Marriott. Its new 33,000-square-foot farm was expected to grow lettuce and microgreens for restaurants, theme parks and other venues. Its first harvest became ready in mid-March — right as coronavirus killed demand, said CEO Daniel Malechuk.

He said Publix started selling his product in 165 stores around Easter, in addition to the 20,000 pounds of lettuce the chain acquired through its donation program so far. The moves have kept his business from having to lay off any of its 65 employees.

“To be able to keep working at full speed and to not have to throw away product, but more importantly to generate some revenue for our company, it was such a blessing at the absolute opportune time for us,” Malechuk said.

Malechuk said his company has donated about 75,000 pounds of vegetables itself.

Long & Scott Farms already donates 4 to 5 million pounds of produce annually, according to a Facebook post from the business, but that carries a cost for the farm, which still has to harvest and package the crop.

“We cannot donate any more than what we’re already doing,” Scott said.

Publix, meanwhile, is buying from farms across Florida and from Southeastern U.S. dairy farmers, as milk dumping has also gained national attention.

Increasing unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic could lead to as many as 17.1 million additional people experiencing food insecurity, according to Feeding America.

A report from Feeding America also said the pandemic could cause the number of food-insecure children to reach 18 million.

“This pandemic has brought the plight of so many millions of our neighbors to the forefront,” Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot said in a news release. “Every car waiting in a distribution line is a family seeking food and encouragement.”

SOURCE: Orlando Sentinel

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