WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden announced Monday that Native Maine Produce & Specialty Foods, a Westbrook distribution company, was awarded $1.35 million to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
The Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a component of USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that was established through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act, is supporting farmers with up to $3 billion in purchases of fresh produce, dairy, and meat and distributing these products to low-income Americans in need, according to a news release.
“Native Maine is proud to be selected by the USDA to deliver food to non-profits, like Good Shepard, in Maine through the Farmers to Families Food Box program,” said John Lunde, Vice Chairman of Native Maine. “We look forward to serving our neighbors and the communities in Maine with 45,000 25 lb. produce boxes to help feed those most in need. We greatly appreciate Maine’s Congressional Delegation and its Department of Agriculture for their support to make sure the USDA recognized the need in Maine for this program during these challenging times.”
No Maine distributors were awarded a contract in the first tranche of funding, however, which has drastically limited the program’s benefits to Maine farmers, anti-hunger organizations, and food insecure families.
The Maine Delegation successfully urged USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to rectify the program’s shortcomings, per the release.
“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Maine’s families, farmers, and food systems have been serious and are certain to persist for months to come,” the Delegation said in a joint statement. “We are pleased that USDA responded to the issues we raised and provided Maine with another opportunity to participate. This funding will support Maine farmers and producers who are struggling with decreased demand and disrupted supply chains as well as help to alleviate hunger in our communities.”
On May 29, the Maine Delegation wrote to Secretary Perdue to urge him to reopen the Food Box bidding process in order to address the program’s regional gaps and permit increased flexibility of the boxes’ design and assembly.
Last week, the Maine Delegation again wrote to Secretary Perdue, calling on him to provide interested Maine distributors with another opportunity to apply to participate in the Farmers to Families Food Box program.