Think about where we were a year ago. Restaurants, bars and schools were closed. Some food processing businesses shut down due to COVID-19 in the workforce. Companies saw normal supply chains vanish or change drastically because of closures.
On one hand, people had lost jobs and needed food. On the other hand, companies needed a market for their food.
Then-Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on April 17, 2020, announced that the first round of coronavirus assistance to agriculture would include a "Farmers to Families Food Box" program. The program would have businesses hurt by the pandemic package food that would otherwise have been wasted due to supply chain changes and give it to people experiencing food insecurity.
From the get-go, there were good and bad reports of the program. There were indications of some amount of cronyism in the acquiring of contracts, as is not uncommon in government matters, and of some places that didn't get served and some businesses that couldn't meet their obligations. But there also were reports of companies and people greatly helped by the program.
By September, Perdue indicated that the program should wind down as the food chain was straightening out. And earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Perdue's successor Tom Vilsack announced the program will be discontinued.
A few days after the USDA announced it will be discontinuing the program, a truck brought food boxes to my community. We had no intention of getting a box. But a neighbor who was volunteering there grabbed boxes for everyone living in our area. It was a kind gesture, and probably a necessary one: It sounds like more food and more boxes were available than anyone knew what to do with, and no one wanted to see it wasted.
So, we ended up with a gallon of milk, a block of cheese, a 12-pack of yogurt, a package of chicken, a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions, a bag of apples and a bag of little navel oranges. It's all stuff that we'll eat, so it won't go to waste here.
Monday morning, I got a call from another person who hadn't intended to take a box but ended up with a couple. They won't use some of the items and didn't want them to go to waste, so they were calling people to take this or that. We go through a lot of milk in our house and onions keep, so that worked out fine.
The other sign that the program should be stopped is that the boxes may not be what families are looking for. I'll happily admit that I've never been in need of help securing food; that's by the grace of God, not a judgment on people who do need help. But I would assume that someone in desperate need of food who also happens to be, say, lactose intolerant would not find much help in a gallon of milk and a block of cheese. A vegetarian wouldn't be overly enthused at a chicken. Food insecure people who dislike onions probably won't use them.
I think that's the good thing about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; people who need help buying food can get help, but they can get food their families will eat. Not everyone likes that the program exists, but, again, many people are not willing to admit that it is often by the grace of God that they haven't needed help.
Farmers to Families Food Boxes served their purpose. It's a good time to be done with the program and instead support SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, school lunch programs, free and reduced milk programs, food banks and food pantries, and other efforts that more efficiently feed people who need assistance.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication nor Forum Communications ownership. Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.