Bringing Food from Farms to the Tables of the Needy

PHOTO: "Farm to Family" began in 2000 by connecting with one grower and distributing half a million pounds of fruit to 10 food banks in northern California.PlayGetty Images
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After working for four decades in the corporate world, Gary Maxworthy became a retired volunteer at the San Francisco food bank. But Maxworthy decided he wanted to do more, and so he founded the Farm to Family program, which distributes millions of pounds of excess produce to needy people across California.

According to the USDA, in 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in "food-insecure households" and another 11.3 million adults lived in households with "very low food security." And yet the country produces an excess of food. Maxworthy tried to solve this paradox by starting Farm to Family.

The organization began in 2000 by working with one grower and distributing half a million pounds of fruit to 10 food banks in northern California.

This year, the organization will distribute 115 million pounds of fresh produce not considered marketable (they have slight differences in size and shape, or are overproduced) that would otherwise be destroyed to over 40 food banks. Over 70 crops are collected and distributed to three million Californians in need.

This has allowed food banks to replace canned and dried food with fresh food.

"Nutrition is everything!" said Maxworthy, when asked what role nutrition plays in the program. "For most food banks in California, over 50 percent of everything they distribute is fresh fruits and vegetables with almost all produce coming from 'Farm to Family.' For some food banks, over 60 percent of their distributions are fresh produce."

In addition to working in California, Farm to Family has begun working with food banks in Arizona and Nevada, and within the next few weeks, the organization will start distributing to Oklahoma and Louisiana on a weekly basis.

"In addition, over the next month we hope to start distributing to Utah, Colorado, Washington and Oregon through our partnership with Feeding America," the nation's largest not-for-profit organization that fights hunger. "During the summer we distributed two truckloads of plums every week to food banks throughout the US," said Maxworthy.

The farm bureau estimates that in addition to higher gas prices and airfare this holiday season, the cost of the classic Thanksgiving dinner is up 13 percent.

With an increasing number of people not able to afford a turkey on Thanksgiving, the "Farm to Family" has started a dairy program to provide milk to families in need.

"This Thanksgiving we piloted a dairy program that distributed 12,000 half gallons of milk at no cost to families in need in the Fresno, Bakersfield, Tulare and Hanford areas of California," said Maxworthy.

Maxworthy hopes to "increase access to Farm to Family produce for other states, increase availability of produce in California schools, and increase availability of hard-to-access, high-demand crops such as grapes and nuts."