Leaders of the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association say they had a “candid dialogue” with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials about the Farmers to Families Food Box Program and expressed hope that improvements can be made.
In a joint letter to the industry on May 29, Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh, and Cathy Burns, CEO of PMA, said they had a lengthy “virtual meeting” with USDA officials earlier that day. At the meeting, USDA officials said that nearly three million boxes of food had been delivered so far.
Confirming what Bruce Summers said in a PMA Virtual Town Hall meeting on May 27 , USDA officials told Stenzel and Burns that the agency is evaluating lessons learned from current contracts and developing new plans for a second round beginning July 1.
“We heard about extensive analysis and audits to verify what is actually taking place under current contracts, which gives us confidence in USDA’s oversight of the program,” according to the letter.
USDA officials said the current plan is to consider companies that received a contract to receive an extension in the next round. In addition, the agency said that new companies will also be considered for contracts, especially in areas where there are unmet needs to supply consumers in need.
Stenzel and Burns said the USDA is open to suggestions on how to meet the needs of food banks, “serving regions that are now under-served, providing diversity of commodities, and better demonstrating capabilities in the bidding process.”
“We reaffirmed that we believe one of the goals of the program is to support companies that have suffered from the loss of foodservice business,” according to the letter.
“As we know, there will likely be many more bidders who offer their services than dollars or contracts allow, but we believe the process will continue to improve with a mutual industry and USDA goal to achieve maximum success for the program,” according to the letter.