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TribLive: Low income residents, Southwestern Pa. farmers should benefit from surplus food expansion

MARY ANN THOMAS | Monday, March 2, 2020 2:44 p.m.

Low-income residents in Southwestern Pennsylvania could receive more fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy, meat and grains from local farms.


Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2020-21 budget proposes to increase spending from $1.5 million to $2.5 million for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System program, which distributes surplus produce, dairy and meat from local farmers to food pantries.


PASS reimburses farmers for the costs to harvest, process, package and transport fresh food that would otherwise be left to rot in the fields or be unused because of market conditions and other issues.


Allegheny County topped the state in 2018-19 in number of pounds of PASS food — 535,000 pounds distributed to more than 58,000 low-income families at food pantries.

The state picks up the tab of packing and transferring those farm products to food pantries, which cost $110,000 in Allegheny County.


However, that PASS food was sent from Allegheny County to food pantries in 11 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, according to Dennis McManus, government affairs director of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.


More money in the program budget means more locally grown and nutritious food for residents, McManus said.


“Both the governor, secretary of agriculture and members of the General Assembly have recognized the importance of putting more dollars into this,” he said.


Although PASS food is a small portion of supplies stocking local pantries, it packs a boost of nutrition by offering fresh vegetables.


In 2018-19, PASS distributed 56 types of local farm products. Among them were apples, asparagus, broccoli, butter, cabbage, cheese, chicken, corn, cucumbers, eggs, green beans, ground beef, lettuce, milk, peaches, pears, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yogurt, and zucchini.


With the opportunity provided by local farms, “agriculture is the antidote for hunger,” said Shannon Powers, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

“Although Pennsylvania is a world leader in agricultural production, too many of our neighbors struggle to secure enough to eat,” she added.


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story was corrected to include current and proposed spending for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System program. Incorrect information was provided to the Tribune-Review.


Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter.