( Photo courtesy amoon ra; Source Unsplash; graphic by Brooke Park )

The produce industry has been working to help feed families during the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways.

Here are some updates to feeding programs, as well as other COVID-19 related news in the industry.

Brighter Bites

Brighter Bites has added a Family Resources page on its website and established social media channels in the six cities it operates to increase access to the program during the pandemic.

The organization is also providing nutrition education resources, including videos, according to a news release from the Houston-based organization.

Brighter Bites is participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program to ensure the 25,000 families in its program continue to be served through the pandemic. The program is distributing boxes with 20-25 pounds of fresh produce each week, according to a news release.

Brighter Bites is working with suppliers in the food box program:

  • Houston: DiMare Fresh and GoFresh/Hardie’s Fresh Foods, to distribute 18,000 boxes weekly at 20 locations;
  • Austin, Texas: DiMare Fresh, to distribute 4,500 boxes each week at nine locations;
  • Dallas: GoFresh/Hardie’s Fresh Foods, to distribute 9,000 boxes a week at 16 locations;
  • New York City: City Harvest, Perfect Pact and Tomato Thyme, to distribute 5,770 boxes a week at 10 locations;
  • Washington, D.C.: Coastal Sunbelt Produce, to distribute 9,050 boxes a week at 20 locations; and
  • Southwest Florida: Perfect Pact and Marjon Specialty Foods, to distribute 2,300 boxes each week from three locations.

California Walnut Board

A recent survey by California Walnuts shows that millions of Americans are snacking more than ever during the pandemic.

The 1,004 online survey participants were asked about snacking trends from May 4-7, according to a news release.

Key findings are:

  • About half of those surveyed said they’re snacking more during the pandemic, and 40% of that group said they expect to continue that behavior indefinitely;
  • Americans are exploring new snacks: 40% said they’re stocking up on snacks and 23% said they’ve tried new snacks since sheltering-in-place started;
  • Snacking is a source of comfort, with a third saying they’ve found comfort their favorite snacks, and a third said their new habits have led to weight gains; and    
  • Healthy is still important, with 20% of participants saying they wish more nutritious snack options were available.

According to the release, the survey highlights opportunities for consumer to add California walnuts to their snacking, while satisfying a preference for a healthy diet that doesn’t lead to an unwanted weight gain, according to the release.

Council for Agricultural Science & Technology

The Council for Agricultural Science & Technology (CAST) and The Agricultural & Applied Economics Association have a free web seminar on the effects of COVID-19 on food and agricultural markets.

The seminar starts at 11 a.m. Central June 29. Registration is online.

A panel of agricultural economists will present highlights of CAST’s “Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Food and Agricultural Markets.” The paper examines economic factors of the pandemic on the agricultural sector, according to a news release. Topics include supply chain, consumer behavior, foodservice and grocery sectors, ag labor and food waste.

The agriculture economists participating in the seminar are:

  • Jayson Lusk, Perdue University;
  • Alison Davis, University of Kentucky;
  • Timothy Richards, Arizona State University; and
  • John Anderson, University of Arkansas.

Earl’s Organic Produce

Earl’s Organic Produce, San Francisco, has donated more than 100 tons of fresh produce to organizations in the Bay area, with weekly shipments.

“The donations come at a time when national food supply chains have come under tremendous stress yet remain strong, vibrant and able to serve and be accountable in times of crisis,” according to a news release. “Earl’s Organic is committed to eliminating as much concern about one’s food supply as we are able.”

Donors include Chelan Fresh, Covilli Brand Organics, Del Cabo, Divine Flavor, Equal Exchange and Homegrown Organics.

Recipients of the produce include:

  • International Faith Ministry Food Bank, in partnership with BriarPatch Food Coop in Grass Valley;
  • Alameda County Community Food Bank;
  • Alameda Food Bank;
  • Gazzali’s Supermarket, East Oakland;
  •  NOW Hunters Point, in partnership with the San Francisco Produce Market.

Henry Avocado

Henry Avocado, Escondido, Calif., is emphasizing its safety measures over the past two years, including an updated sanitation program that led to a reworking of a packing line last year.

The company’s food safety manager and sanitation manager, Luke Varvel and Jorge Tostado, respectively, have linked their responsibilities to give Henry Avocado an around-the-clock regimen, according to a news release.

The company developed an updated sanitation program with the help of Factor IV Solutions, a food facility sanitation consulting firm.

Henry Avocado initiated a number of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus at packing and processing areas at the facility, from prohibiting visitors in specific areas and mandating masks and using temperature checks.

“We strive to lead our industry with the latest and most effective food safety programs,” Phil Henry said in the release. “We’ve made a commitment to stay current and vigilant so that our customers in retail and foodservice can be confident in receiving fresh conventional and organic avocados that surpass industry food safety standards.”

Hy-Vee Inc.

Hy-Vee Inc. donated more than $143,000 in food and supplies to Harvesters — The Community Food Network in Kansas City, Kan.

The retailer presented a ceremonial check June 24 to the food bank, according to a news release.

Hy-Vee has raised more than $1 million to help food banks restock shelves during the pandemic. Donations include consumer donations at Hy-Vee store checkouts, with the retailer matching donations up to $500,000 according to the release. 

On June 23, Kansas City-area Hy-Vee stores gave away more than 83,000 peaches at Arrowhead Stadium, home to NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, according to a news release. The giveaway was designed to avoid direct contact with people picking up peaches.

The donations were made through SunWest Fruit Co., in partnership with Harvesters, according to the release. Twenty peaches were given to each consumer at the giveaway.

New Jersey Department of Health

A free, recorded online seminar can help agricultural employers understand and implement New Jersey’s COVID-19 guidance for migrant and seasonal farmworkers, employers and housing providers.

The New Jersey Department of Health partnered with the state’s agriculture and labor departments to create the guidance, focusing on precautions to help protect farm employees from COVID-19 on New Jersey farms and in farm labor housing, according to a Rutgers Cooperative Extension advisory by Rick VanVranken, agriculture county agent.

The 1-hour, 33-minute webinar on the Rutgers On-Farm Food Safety YouTube channel reviews the guidelines

VanVranken noted that even though a webinar presenter suggests using 99 degrees Fahrenheit as the temperature-monitoring threshold, Monique Purcell, state assistant secretary of agriculture who worked on the guidance, confirmed the threshold remains 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another important point, VanVranken wrote, is the need to work with and invite Federally Qualified Health Centers to farms. 

“They are charged with helping to educate your farmworkers to understand this disease, how it spreads and how to protect themselves, as well as to provide testing for all employees on your farm, including the owner and family members working on the farm, free of charge,” VanVranken said in the advisory.

United Farm Workers

The UFW Foundation and World Central Kitchen, in coordination with United Farm Workers, has distributed 114,000 meals in the past 13 weeks.

The restaurant meals have been distributed to farm workers and their families in farming communities in California, including Lamont, Delano, Greenfield, Salinas, Madera and Santa Rosa. The program, a necessity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has grown to include 19,500 meals a week, according to a news release.

The UFW and United Farm Workers have also distributed nearly 11,000 boxes and bags of food from distribution sites in Salinas, Oxnard, and Tulare and Kern counties.

“This is a big milestone, a moment to commemorate and to reaffirm our commitment to the farm worker communities of rural California,” Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen, said in the release. “It's been an honor to work alongside the UFW and UFW Foundation to keep the farm workers of California fed.”

Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director of the UFW Foundation, said the program ensures dignity for farmworkers.

“We look forward to continuing to provide meals for thousands of farm worker families in rural California in the coming weeks who are struggling due to the ongoing pandemic,” Torres said in the release.

Northeast Editor Amy Sowder contributed to this article.


For more coverage, see The Packer's COVID-19 webpage.

Related stories:

COVID-19 news: Worker safety, immunity, thanking essential workers