IV Press Article 2-5-16 ### Vessey Donates 5 Million Pounds of Produce Each Year

Local farmer among those making a difference for Food Banks

Posted: Friday, February 5, 2016 1:00 am | Updated: 1:34 pm, Fri Feb 12, 2016.

By EDWIN DELGADO, Staff Writer |

Despite producing almost half of the fruits and vegetables that are consumed in the country, one in seven Californians experience food insecurity. One in four among children.

For that reason in the late 1990s the Farm to Family Program from the California Association of Food Banks was created.

The goal of the program was to partner with farmers to donate or sell surplus produce at cost to help the 43 member food banks across California.

120 farmers throughout the state including local farmer Jack Vessey, have partnered with the program and contributed with more than 50 different types of produce for those who need them.

Steve Sharp from the California Association of Food Banks said that a few years back most food banks would get a lot of cereals, sodas and other non-nutritious foods. The Farm to Family program was seen as a great opportunity to get more produces and healthy foods made available for all food banks in the state.

Sharp said he came across Vessey about five years ago and decided to join the program.

“I think it’s very important to do our part,” Vessey said. “Before a lot of food banks would get a box full of jams, soups, chips, cookies and it wasn’t the most nutritious way for people to get food. This is a way to contribute with something people need for a healthy lifestyle.”

Between what he donates and sells at cost, Vessey said he contributes with more than five million pounds of produce a year. Vessey grows green cabbage, Napa cabbage and bok choy.

According to Sharp the willingness of the farmers is what has allowed the program to grow exponentially. He said that they are expecting to distribute 200 million pounds of food throughout the state as part of the program.

“The benefits have just been tremendous, naturally I joke with people that our goal is to put ourselves out of business,” Sharp said. “We would like to get to a point in which there are no more hungry people and we don’t need for food banks, but that is not the reality.”

Imperial Valley Food Bank Executive Director Sara Griffen said that thanks to the program the amount of produce they have been able to make available for the local community has increased 50 percent over the past 5 years.

“It helps us a lot, we serve a total of one million pounds of produce every year,” Griffen said. “It’s very helpful during the summer time to be able to offer fresh fruits and vegetables when we don’t grow them locally.”

One of the perks of the program is that it allows the local food bank to offer more variety and some items that may not be available.

Griffen said that she had a woman come into the food bank and got some plums which she said she hadn’t had in many years.

“Our local food bank is also in great need and they do a heck of a job in getting whatever food they can for the people in need locally,” Vessey said. “It’s part of our business when you get too much produce in the cooler and the market goes down, is better to give it away than to throw it away.”

When he first took part in the program Sharp said his perception was that mostly the homeless used the local food banks and quickly realized that it wasn’t the case. It was working families with very small budgets trying to get the food that would get the most out of for their families.

Vessey said that although the produce business has done a good job in providing fresh food at a reasonable price still not everyone has the means to get the healthy and nutritious food they need.

“There are people that can’t afford it and that’s sad, I think we need to do our part to get the produce to that people who can't afford it,” He said. “This is a way for me as a business person and farmer to get the produce to a market that can't buy it.”

Taking part on this program is only one of the many ways Vessey tries to support the local community. During the rib cook-off last week he raised more than $20,000 for the Holtville Athletic Club, and has also donated to the Boys and Girls Club and the FFA.

“My dad was always very charitable, my family always has been that’s how I was raised,” he said.

Sharp recognized that the commitment of the farmers has been the key to the success of the program which keeps growing every year and gives many families throughout California the ability of getting the proper nutrition and foods they need.

“They are what makes the program work without them, there wouldn’t be a program,” Sharp said.