PROVIDENCE, RI – Due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, more Rhode Islanders than ever are in need of emergency and supplemental food. At the same time, Rhode Island farmers and food sector businesses are facing widespread market and supply chain disruption.
In an effort to assist Rhode Island’s families, farmers, and food businesses, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline helped include federal funds for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Public Law No. 116-136). CFAP provides $3 billion to purchase and distribute agricultural products to those in need nationwide. Under the program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partners with regional and local distributors, whose workforce has been significantly impacted by the closure of many restaurants, hotels, sports stadiums, colleges, schools, and other food service providers, to purchase and distribute fresh produce, dairy products, and meat.
Today, Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation announced that Farm Fresh Rhode Island has been approved by USDA for the Farmers to Families Food Box program. Farm Fresh RI’s Market Mobile service is a transparent distribution system that has connected farmers and food producers in the Northeast region with new markets since 2009. As a result of CFAP, Market Mobile will work with local farms to create over 75,000 “Farmers to Families Food Boxes” containing fresh, local vegetables, fruit, milk, yogurt, and cheeses in 2020. These nutritious, local products will be packed and delivered weekly to Rhode Islanders in need. Following the harvest season in the Northeast, Farm Fresh RI’s Market Mobile “Farmers to Families Food Box” contents will reflect what’s available seasonally to create a delicious, nutritious, and well-rounded offering that supports the hard work of our local family farms.
“We are pleased Farm Fresh RI has been approved by the USDA for the ‘Farmers to Families Food Box’ program. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Rhode Island’s families, farmers, and food businesses hard, and we need to help them recover. This program is a win-win that will connect local growers with a buyer so they can sell their produce and goods at a fair price while helping to get fresh, nutritious foods to Rhode Island residents in need,” said Reed, Whitehouse, Langevin, and Cicilline in a joint statement. All four members of the delegation sent a letter in support of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s application.
“The Farm Fresh RI ‘Farmers to Families Food Box’ will assist hundreds of local and regional farmers while helping thousands of food insecure Rhode Island residents,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “This effort will maintain the strength of Rhode Island’s food and farm economy especially in these challenging times while providing for residents in need.”
Farm Fresh RI’s application was submitted in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, and is expected to help provide up to 3,750 food boxes per week of fresh and nutritious fruits, vegetables, and dairy products for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank to help feed Rhode Islanders in need throughout the calendar year.
“For well over a decade, we have been connecting the local farmers and eaters of Rhode Island,” said Sheri Griffin, Co-Executive Director of Farm Fresh RI. “Now as the number of people in our community living with food insecurity grows by the day, we are proud to bring this support to not only the eaters of our state, but to the local farmers harvesting and preparing the food that will fill the ‘Farmers to Families’ food boxes.”
The Rhode Island Community Food Bank is a core partner in the “Farmers to Families Food Box” program. Farm Fresh Rhode Island will aggregate the food, assemble the boxes, and deliver to the Food Bank, which will then distribute them to 40 member agencies across the state. The Rhode Island Community Food Bank and its member agencies all have Rhode Island Department of Health licensure and certified food safety managers present for all deliveries and distributions. The University of Rhode Island SNAP Education program is providing bilingual cooking and nutritional inserts for each box.
“Right now in our state there are thousands of families facing hunger,” said Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank said. “The Food Bank is thrilled to collaborate with Farm Fresh Rhode Island on this new program that will provide fresh, healthy food to those in dire need.”
The CFAP “Farmers to Families Food Box” program will leverage the well-established infrastructure and experience of the state’s most seasoned local food hub and Rhode Island’s central food bank to feed the community during this challenging time, while investing this federal funding directly back into the local economy by way of Rhode Island farmers and food businesses.