Take it to the (food) bank

New law would incentivize state farmers to give fresh produce to aid organizations

If all goes according to plan, a bill to provide nutritional food to those hungry in California could soon bear fruit—and vegetables, too.

Already approved by the Assembly, A.B. 152, authored by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes of the San Fernando Valley, heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. The bill aims to encourage farmers and growers to donate surplus produce to food banks.

“A.B. 152 helps our farmers harvest food that would otherwise rot in their fields,” explained Ben Golombek, Fuentes’ chief of staff, “and gives them the financial assistance they need to get that food to food banks.”

If approved and signed into law, the bill, which passed the Assembly with zero no votes, would provide a 10 percent tax credit to farmers for the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables donated to food banks.

According to bill sponsor the California Association of Food Banks, the state does not currently have an emergency food-assistance program; 38 other states do. At the same time, those food banks are already facing high demand.

As part of figures released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Agriculture, requests for food help have risen by 13 percent in California since last year.

In Sacramento County, roughly 50,000 households receive food aid. In Yolo County, about 13,000 do so. But only about half of those eligible take part due to complex state requirements (see “Lost supper,” SN&R Feature, June 30).

In Yolo, Food Bank of Yolo County executive director Jose Martinez said his organization serves about 20,000 clients a month. With all the agricultural operations in the county, he sees A.B. 152 as a good step.

“In Yolo County, we have a lot of small mom-and-pop farmers that don’t have the capacity of the industrial growers to give food away,” he said. “So they would definitely benefit from this kind of encouragement and tax credit.”

He added A.B. 152 would help his organization reach its goal of having half of its distributed food include fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2010, about one-third of the food distributed by the Yolo food bank was fresh produce. The rest was primarily processed and packaged goods, which are considered less healthy.

“Fresh produce is absolutely beneficial and better nutritionally,” Martinez said.