Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (from left), Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Coastal Sunbelt Produce CEO John Corso, and Ivanka Trump tour a Coastal Sunbelt facility in Laurel, Md., on May 15. Perdue and Trump visited the facility to kick off the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. ( Courtesy USDA )

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now allowing companies in the newest round of contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to pack commodity-specific boxes, including produce-only boxes.

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, however, will place priorities on combination boxes, those that include produce, dairy, fluid milk and cooked meat products.

"Combination boxes have the most nutritional value for families receiving each box and remain the priority for the government," according to a FAQ list that accompanies the solicitation amendment.

The USDA made the change on Aug. 7, according to a member alert from the United Fresh Produce Association. An amendment on the program’s website, specifies that besides combination boxes, there are three new box choices: fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy, including fluid milk. Eggs can also be included in meat and combination boxes.

The fruit and vegetable boxes must include:

  • 4-6 pounds of root vegetables (potatoes, yams, carrots, onions, etc.);
  • 4-6 pounds of fruits with longer storage shelf life (like stone fruit, citrus, apples or melons);
  • 1 or 2 leaf or leaf-stalk vegetables; and
  • 1 or 2 locally grown items, as available; if none are available, additional fruits and vegetables of vendor's choice or increase the fruit or vegetables to meet the minimum weight.

Produce-only boxes must weigh 15-20 pounds, according to the USDA.

As previously announced, the USDA made changes to the third round of food box contract, including allowing only combination boxes in the program. It's not known how many commodity-specific boxes will be allowed; or what the criteria will be when deciding that combination boxes will be chosen over single-sector boxes. 

Combination boxes must include 10 to 12 pounds of fruits and vegetables:

  • 2 to 4 pounds of root vegetables;
  • 2 to 4 pounds of fruits with longer storage life; and
  • 1 or 2 locally grown fruit or vegetable items;

There is no deadline for this round of Farmers to Families boxes. The $500 to $700 million; the Basic Ordering Agreements (which include the distributing contractors’ plans) will be issued on a "rolling basis during an open season until such time as the Government has enough BOA holders per region to adequately meet the government's requirements," according to the FAQ list. The agreements will be valid through Aug. 15, 2022.

As of Aug. 10, according to the USDA, 59.3 million boxes had been distributed through food banks and nonprofits through the program.

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