Like many others in America, the 21 food banks in Texas, saw an increase in food assistance needs since last March. Hurricanes, extreme heat and massive flooding tested them over the years but they never faced a pandemic before.
The food bank adjusted, stretching its resources and strengthened partnerships with farmers and growers. Then, “a disaster within the disaster” hit the state on Valentine’s Day.
Freeze comes at the ‘worst time,’ farmers say
J Allen Carnes, a third-generation farmer in Uvalde, said roughly 100 acres of cabbage and onions were lost because plants couldn’t withstand days of freezing temperatures. The president of Winter Garden Produce says he’s worried that even more acres could be lost in the next weeks and months, leaving farmworkers with with less work or without a job.
“We have fields that didn’t survive and we’ve already plowed them up. We’ve got others that don’t look good at this juncture and I would bet, we never harvest them. And then we have fields that look pretty good, but you don’t know what the quality is going to be like,” Carnes said.
“The timing of this freeze could not have come at a worse time,” Murden testified during a hearing of the Texas legislature committee on agriculture and livestock earlier this month.
Over the past year, farmers in the Rio Grande Valley have struggled with a pandemic, extreme drought and a hurricane that made them lose 20% of their crops, Murden said.
“People don’t realize how devastating this was to agriculture,” Miller said. “Food banks are the recipient of that. It’s a ripple effect.”
Higher costs ahead
Food bank leaders in different regions of the state who spoke to CNN said they are worried because a shortage of crops would mean higher costs for them.
With limited surplus of produce, food banks would have to reach outside of Texas in other growing areas in California, Arizona or even Washington to fill the gaps. The cost paid to the growers could increase 2-4 cents per pound, plus the cost of freight depending on how far the produce has to travel.
“We would have to stretch our limited dollars a lot further,” Cole said.
That cost would be even higher for rural areas and places considered as food deserts.
The food bank is in the Midland-Odessa metro area and serves more than a dozen counties, some of which are as far as an eight-hour drive from its warehouse, Campbell said.
“We are off the beaten path,” Campbell said. “We are a long distance (away) and we have to pay for good quality produce and not near rotten because it has to spend one or two days traveling in a truck, then we have to process it and then we have to ship it out.”
Cooper, in San Antonio, says several growers have called saying they don’t believe they will be able to donate produce this year.
As the next growing season approaches, Cooper hopes things improve for farmers and farmworkers.
“There will be another season coming, but what do you do today?” Cooper said. “What can we do to put food on the table now?”
Source: CNN – US News