Wolf Administration Hosts ‘Feeding Pennsylvanians, Reducing Waste’ Discussion on Food Security and its Environmental Impacts

From the Office of Governor

Harrisburg, PA The Pennsylvania departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Agriculture today hosted “Feeding Pennsylvanians, Reducing Waste,” a panel discussion on food security in Pennsylvania and how commonwealth programs, partners, and residents are taking steps to reduce food waste to protect the environment, the security of the food supply chain, and the charitable food system. The event was held as part of the virtual 2021 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

“Reducing food waste – where food that could otherwise help to feed Pennsylvania families, rather than going to a landfill – is key to preventing hunger. Food waste is also an environmental concern as food waste in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas, and DEP is proud to address food security,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said. “This panel discussion provided a candid conversation for organizations and people in Pennsylvania who are changemakers addressing Pennsylvania’s food security concerns.”

According to Feeding Pennsylvania, an advocate organization addressing food insecurity and hunger, overall, more than 2 million Pennsylvanians are food insecure. Currently, 64 out of the 67 Pennsylvania counties have food insecurity rates at or above 13 percent. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, just three counties did.

In 2019, DEP initiated the Food Infrastructure Recovery Grant Program to address food security. Funded through the commonwealth’s Recycling Fund, the Food Infrastructure Recovery Grant Program provides grants of up to $200,000 to Pennsylvania nonprofit organizations to purchase equipment that preserves food, like refrigeration units, for example.

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank was a recipient of the Food Infrastructure Recovery Grant program. Executive Director Joe Arthur said, “Our Food Bank has a robust system of food rescue and redistribution. We divert millions of pounds of food before it is thrown away and share it with those who need a helping hand. We save it from restaurants, retailers, grocers, shipping companies, and farms. With proper food safety practices, we rescue it, keep it fresh, and maintain its high quality and nutrition.”

The Department of Agriculture’s Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) reduces agricultural waste by connecting the agriculture industry with the charitable food system in all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Thirteen local food distributors work with more than 2,700 local charitable partners to distribute food to help feed low-income Pennsylvanians. Farmers are reimbursed for their surplus product and their fresh, local food is sent to families in need rather than left to lie rotting in fields.

“It breaks the hearts of farmers and food processors when their hard work, the food they create, goes to waste,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “No one should go hungry, especially in a state as agriculturally rich as Pennsylvania. That is why we are so proud of the Pennsylvania Agriculture Surplus System. By defraying the cost of donation, PASS puts nutritious food, grown by Pennsylvania farmers, into the charitable food system and provides an alternative market for commonwealth farmers and food producers when they have no outlet for their product. Between April 2016 and September 2020, more than 12.9 million pounds of food was distributed through PASS to all 67 Pennsylvania counties.”

PASS was originally enacted into law in 2010 and first funded in 2015 by Governor Tom Wolf at $1 million annually. In 2017-18, the program funding was increased to $1.5 million annually. In 2020, through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the program was further enhanced with an additional $10 million to address both volatile agricultural markets and food security in the commonwealth as Pennsylvania battled the coronavirus pandemic.

In Pittsburgh, Chef Carlos A. Thomas aims to eliminate food deserts – areas where affordable access to nutritional food is insufficient. Thomas, founder of Feed the Hood and Confluence Catering, creates tasty and healthy meals for area establishments to sell at affordable costs. “Practical solutions for food security can be established, on the micro level, in neighborhoods. By increasing tasty, nutritious foods, we can lessen the impact of unhealthy foods. Ultimately, we may see a favorable change in the health indexes of food desert communities,” Thomas said.

Dr. Darrell E. Bartholomew, a marketing professor at Penn State Harrisburg, developed a food sustainability case study in collaboration with The GIANT Company titled, “Meat the Needs.”

“I was happy to be able to participate in the panel discussion at the farm show. My family and I love going to the farm show and seeing all of the baby animals. Even though we can't participate in the same way this year in some of the events, there are some important discussions that we can all participate in when it comes to helping our neighbors in our local communities,” Bartholomew said.

Nicholas Bertram, president of the GIANT Company, a Carlisle-based, omni-channel grocer with more than 150 stores in the commonwealth, said “At the GIANT Company, our purpose of connecting families for a better future guides all that we do. Our work to eliminate hunger and heal the planet are just two of the many ways we bring our purpose to life in the communities we serve, and uniquely, our ‘Meat the Needs’ program helps do both. Since its inception, this program has helped our food bank partners feed our neighbors while reducing food waste, and we couldn’t be prouder of the positive impact it has had over the years. As a company that aims to lead by example in all that it does, we hope that the success of this program inspires others to do what they can to make a difference.”

In Philadelphia, Chef Keisha Prosser, the Mobile Cooking Teacher and founder of Ree’s & Kei’s Mobile Cooking Teacher guides parents and their children through virtual cooking exercises that emphasize reading comprehension, math skills, and world history. “Making food interesting and fun for children sparks a curiosity in them about food that may last generations and may ultimately stop food insecurity in Pennsylvania,” Prosser said.