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Homestead's Farm Fresh is Feeding Florida

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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2017 12:00 am | Updated: 9:32 am, Fri Feb 24, 2017.

  What if the right thing actually happened? Someone sees an injustice that needs repaired, and guess what? People who can help work together and make it better.

  It may seem impossible, considering the acrimony of our national debate at the moment.

  But here in Homestead, and working throughout the state of Florida, is an amazing organization started by a retiree turned philanthropist. After retiring from her first career, Patricia Robbins, founded the Farm Share program in 1991. Farm Share is a non-profit organization that provides free fresh produce, canned goods, baked goods and other necessities, addressing the overwhelming need of domestic hunger in Florida. Patricia saw that so much surplus produce went to waste after being picked over by the large market buyers like supermarkets and food brokers. Amazingly, 40% of all food grown nationwide is dumped or plowed under. Farm Share’s focus is on acquiring and distributing this produce to those in need. Farm Share’s goal is to distribute food without fees of any kind to agencies such as soup kitchens, homeless shelters, food banks, churches, and more.

  Farm Share has multiple offices throughout Florida and has distributed over 300 million pounds of food to more than 1,000 soup kitchens, homeless shelters, food pantries, and other groups feeding families in need throughout the State. In 2016, they distributed 40 million pounds of food, while also administering the USDA TEFAP food program for Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. To facilitate this they own and operates a fleet of six semi-trucks, 10 refrigerated trailers and 12 refrigerated box trucks used to pick up and distribute food from Key West to Pensacola.

Farm Share Facts
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  While most food distribution organizations request canned and processed food donations, Farm Share focuses on re-packing fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away. It costs more to handle this kind of food, but fresh produce is simply more nutritious than canned, and there is a nearly unlimited supply of it being thrown out every year. Farm Share receives food in bulk and has the resources to sort, pack, store and ship tractor-trailer loads of fresh food.

  The COO of Farm Share is Homestead Councilman Steve Shelley. Shelley had a successful law practice in Miami-Dade, but when offered the opportunity to oversee Farm Share he jumped at the chance. Said Shelley, “I feel so blessed to have this opportunity. At the end of a busy day, all of us at Farm Share feel so lucky to be able to bring help to so many people.”

  The state of Florida provides $2.3 million in funding per year, while $1 million comes from private donations, and another $660,000.00 from Miami-Dade County. The Federal TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) provides $2 million in food and funding. Farm Share’s administrative costs are kept low by partnering with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (which provides warehouse facilities, support staff, equipment, services, and state oversight) and with the Florida Department of Corrections (which provides inmates and corrections officers daily for sorting, packing and distributing donated food).

  The headquarters are located in Homestead, the heart of Miami-Dade County’s agricultural area. This provides easy access to produce farmers, packers, brokers and wholesalers who freely donate fresh fruits and vegetables, saving money on transportation costs. By utilizing the supply of bulk produce donations (42,000 lbs. at a time) from Florida farmers, it is an efficient and low cost way to feed hungry people.

  The Homestead warehouse is approximately 29,000 square feet and has 17 cooler/freezers. The Florida City Warehouse is an additional 10,000 square feet with one cooler. Farm Share operated out of the Florida City Market until 2005 when the building was severely damaged by Hurricane Wilma. The building was rebuilt by the State of Florida and was handed back to Farm Share in August 2016. The refrigeration units were not repaired by the State and therefore the existing onsite coolers do not presently work. Farm Share is actively seeking funding for an additional 6 refrigeration units to install in the coolers at the Florida City Market to expand their produce acquisition capacity.

  At the Homestead Center, food is distributed Monday through Saturday with the hard work of 23 employees. On a busy morning forklifts were buzzing everywhere, stacking pallets of local produce and canned goods into semi-trucks for delivery, and into a line of local vans and trucks taking deliveries to area food pantries and churches. 17 refrigerated storage pods are filled with supplies. Community groups arrive by appointment for large pickups. Organizations from Homestead, Miami and Hialeah were first in line to be loaded with fresh produce, baked goods and canned food. The wonderful smell of ripe mangos was everywhere.

  Along with Agency Distributions, Farm Share holds Community Distributions 3 to 5 times per week. This is where individuals and families can come on their own to receive food assistance. In 2016, Farm Share held 290 Community Distributions throughout the state, including 150 in Miami-Dade. Individuals receive bags filled with the variety of food items that are available that day.        Farm Share also coordinates with Operation Blessing, receiving and distributing higher-end donations such as diapers, over-the-counter medications, protein bars and Gatorade.

  And they also have available FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) supplies such as warm blankets and bottled water.

  With so much work to be done, Farm Share welcomes community groups and individuals who can donate their time to help. If you or your organization would like to volunteer, contact Farm Share at information@farmshare.org.

  To find out when a Community Distribution is in your area, or how to have your church or food bank receive donations, go to www.FarmShare.org, or call 305-246-FARM (3276).

  Food insecurity is a household with limited or uncertain access to adequate food. They found that 293,000 people, or 11.3% of Miami-Dade County is food insecure. With the help of Farm Share, and community volunteers, the injustice of hunger can disappear in Miami-Dade.

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