Wisconsin food shelves say they’re seeing higher demand, while advocates for smaller farmers say a number of them are still trying to find markets for their products. A new initiative gives those farmers grants to provide locally grown food to area pantries. Comments from Forrest Humphrey, local foods organizer, Wisconsin Farmers Union.

A new Wisconsin program strives to create a “win-win” scenario for regional food shelves and independent farmers. This month, a new directory went live where local producers can create a profile of their operation, including the types of food they grow. The online tool allows hunger-relief organizations and meal programs to search for farmers who are given grants through a larger program to produce a certain amount of food to be donated. Forrest Humphrey is with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, one of the partners under the initiative. He says making these connections can open a lot of doors.

“We’re working with a lot of small farmers, folks who may just sell at the farmers market, who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to expand to larger markets or get their products out to more people. And I think this is a really great way for them to do that.”

In turn, local food shelves can stock up on healthier options as they report high levels of demand, especially after federal pandemic food aid expired earlier this year. The broader initiative is called the Wisconsin Local Food Purchase Assistance program. The state agriculture department and a handful of other organizations also are involved in carrying out elements of the effort.

Humphrey says bolstering the production and delivery of locally grown food and getting it to those in need can help shield communities from economic trends beyond their control. “Connecting farmers with food banks – that’s been a really good way to kind of avoid some of those larger supply-chain disruptions that we saw during the pandemic.”

He says having a more resilient local food system will put communities in a better position to withstand future market disruptions. The union says all contracts for the current growing season have been awarded, but organizers will soon begin outreach to get more farmers to participate in the program’s second year. In the meantime, stakeholders are encouraged to view the directory found through the program’s website.

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