Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Jean Simpson is executive director at Manna Meal, in Charleston, and Spencer Moss is communications director for the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition.
Nationally, about 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold every year.
When farmers consider donating excess food to those in need, it is both an ethical and economic decision. Harvesting, storing, and transporting excess food to charitable organizations, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, can be costly for farmers, as they must pay for labor, refrigeration and gasoline.
Manna Meal, a community soup kitchen in Charleston, has, for the past 40 years, been serving meals to the working poor, elderly, and mentally ill. Currently, 410 meals a day, seven days a week, are served, and fresh produce is an integral part of the operation. It is a common misnomer that food pantries and soup kitchens only want or use prepackaged, processed, nonperishable food items. It’s quite the contrary. These service organizations desire to serve their clients the most nutritious meals possible.
In 2014, Manna Meal purchased $139,000 worth of food, yet received 205,363 pounds of donated food, worth $386,704. Of the donated food, 61,876 was fresh produce, worth approximately $123,752.
Attaining that 61,876 pounds was hard. In order to acquire fresh produce, staff and volunteers must spend time nearly begging farmers and grocery stores for excess and unsold produce. The fact is, it is easier for farmers to either leave produce in the field or compost it.
It takes laborious hours to harvest, clean, pack, load and transport produce. Often times, farmers simply can’t spare the time away from the farm to complete these actions for donation.
If, however, there were a way to compensate the farmers for their time and transportation, then soup kitchens and food pantries likely would receive more fresh produce.
There are farmers who donate their unsold produce at the end of the daily farmers market. In this scenario, the farmer has already harvested, washed, packed and transported the produce.
A benefit such as a state tax incentive could help the farmers who are already helping the community, as they repack and transport the produce to the local soup kitchen or food pantry before heading back to the farm.
Seven states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Oregon — offer state tax incentives targeted at food recovery efforts. California offers an income tax credit to farmers donating fresh produce equal to 10 percent of the inventory costs and a unique tax credit to businesses for the transportation costs. Oregon offers a tax credit up to 15 percent of the value of the quantity of the crop donated.
The seven states that offer food recovery tax incentives vary widely in their policies.
The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, in partnership with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the West Virginia University College of Law, are researching tax incentives that would be most effective in West Virginia. These tax incentives will be proposed to the West Virginia Legislature in 2016.