HARRISBURG, Pa. — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced that the state’s program that rescues surplus agricultural products from waste and redirects it to the charitable food system, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS), has officially exceeded more than 20 million pounds of food. That’s 20 million pounds of fresh, locally produced products put into the hands of those who need it most over the past five years.
“In a state as agriculturally rich as Pennsylvania, no one should go hungry. In 2016, Governor Wolf acknowledged the need for a connection between the agriculture industry and our charitable food system by funding the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System,” said Redding. “Now, five years later, we’ve been able to source more than 20 million pounds of surplus food from Pennsylvania farmers to feed food insecure Pennsylvanians.
“This program is a win-win. The only thing worse than the products of Pennsylvania’s hardworking farmers going to waste is more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians not knowing where their next meal will come from,” added Redding.
The department’s Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) program helps to support Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and reduce waste of agricultural surplus by making connections between production agriculture and the non-profit sector. Originally enacted into law in 2010, the program was first funded in 2015 by Governor Tom Wolf at $1 million annually. In 2017-18, the program funding was increased to $1.5 million annually.
In addition to the $1.5 million in state funds, in 2020 the program was awarded $10 million from the state’s federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocation. Together, these state and federal funds were used to purchase excess product from Pennsylvania farmers and distribute them to all 67 counties through 13 partners that are members of the Feeding Pennsylvania and Hunger-Free Pennsylvania networks of food banks.
“Pennsylvania’s charitable food network is dedicated to providing nutritious food to families facing hunger and we are extremely grateful to the commonwealth for investing in this critical program,” said Jane Clements-Smith, executive director of Feeding Pennsylvania. “The PASS program directly benefits agriculture and provides Pennsylvania food banks the opportunity to offer a diverse range of local products to our clients while supporting Pennsylvania farmers, processors, and distributors. It’s a true win-win.”
Since the PASS program was first funded by Governor Tom Wolf, more than 20 million pounds of food have been distributed through the statewide network of charitable food providers to all 67 counties. Nearly 8 million of the 20 million pounds were purchased and distributed from July 2020 through March 2021, and 6.1 million of those were funded through CARES Act dollars. Pennsylvania grown and produced foods have been sourced from 158 farmers, processors, and growers in 47 counties. The foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese and other items that are often difficult for food pantries to obtain.
According to Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap report, in 2019, 10.6% of all residents in Pennsylvania didn’t always know where their next meal was coming from. That number included nearly 14.6% of all Pennsylvania children.
In 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Feeding America reports that the number of Pennsylvanians who faced food insecurity grew to 13.8 percent, an increase of 30 percent. More startling, the number of children who faced food insecurity rose to 20.4 percent, an increase of nearly 40 percent in just one year.
For 2021, Feeding American projects that, as a result of policies implemented by the federal and state government to strengthen nutrition assistance programs and also the generosity of the private sector, food insecurity rates will improve from 2020. Projections indicate that overall food insecurity in Pennsylvania will fall to 12 percent of all residents, and 16.8 percent of all children.
For more information about food security and resources for Pennsylvanians in need, visit agriculture.pa.gov/
–Shannon Powers, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture