Farmers have always given back, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Florida in March of 2020, they went the extra mile to serve their communities.
After spending eight years developing greenhouses around the U.S., Angela TenBroeck settled on building an urban farm in Jacksonville. She had planned for 2020 to be the year to expand into a hub-and-spoke model for small and medium farms to collaborate. She also won a Florida Blue grant for produce vending machines.
Then COVID-19 hit Florida. And while it stalled her expansion plans, it also created a new opportunity to give back. Talking to her contact at Florida Blue, TenBroeck learned that local food banks and others were in need of fresh produce.
TenBroeck reached out to her farmer network, and soon there were 53 trucks loaded with produce. Volunteers dropped off bags of produce to seniors who were unable to leave their homes, as well as families reliant on school lunches to feed their children. Months later, the “Florida Blue, Farmers and You” program has served more than 120,000 pounds of food to people in seven counties, supplied by local and regional farmers.
“People are getting, for the first time, high-quality, Fresh From Florida, amazing produce right from their neighbors,” TenBroeck says. “It’s given me an opportunity to tell a story about us as farmers and the fact that we want to serve our neighbors.”
TenBroeck isn’t slowing down, though – she’s still working on building her farm, with plans to hire reemerging women, such as those recently released from prison, overcoming addiction or who are part of the LGBTQ community. While she’s not as far along as she originally planned, she’s excited to say they’re still moving along. In fact, they just turned on the power in one of the buildings.
Sam Accursio & Sons Farms
When the pandemic first shut down the state, orders from grocery stores suddenly stopped and pickup dates were pushed. Meanwhile, workers at Sam Accursio’s family farm continued to pick green beans, zucchini and squash. With more than 1 million pounds of produce at risk of going to waste, Accursio had a late-night epiphany.
“I woke up and I said, ‘Let’s just give this produce away at cost. Let’s put it out on Facebook,’ and it was a huge success,” he says. “We never realized how hungry people were for local, safe, fresh, affordable food.”
Folks drove up from the Keys for fresh produce. Some even brought trucks to load up with vegetables to bring back to their neighbors. Accursio estimates he’s given away about 750,000 pounds of vegetables at cost. Additionally, when President Trump visited North Carolina in August, Accursio was able to speak to the president about the needs of farmers.
However, as he’s lauded alongside other farmers who have given back to the community when they needed it most, he feels that they helped him too.
“We haven’t forgotten those consumers that are local that bailed us out of thousands and thousands of pounds of produce that I had already harvested,” he says. “The community really stepped up, and I met a bunch of nice people I never knew existed in my own town.”
R.C. Hatton Farms
In farming, there are ups and downs. But for Paul Allen, he’d never seen a complete shutdown before.
“When we farm and produce food to the scale that we do, we plant every day, cultivate every day, we harvest every day, we ship every day,” the Pahokee farmer explains. “We had nowhere to go with our produce.”
With 12,000 acres of cabbage, green beans, sweet corn and sugar cane, Allen was forced to destroy more than 1 million pounds. It hurt to see so much go to waste. So, he used his voice to speak for farmers via the media. Allen appeared on CNN, NBC, BBC and Fox News, talking about the struggles farmers were facing and how they wanted to help.
“There was a lot of prayer that went into it, I’ll say that, but we had to get the word out to the administration about what was going on because we needed help,” Allen says.
And the outreach worked – people began to buy more produce and the government found a way to connect farmers with groups in need. Florida farmers were even able to help people beyond the region, sending truckloads of produce to the Bahamas and major food banks up the East Coast.