USDA meets virtually with produce industry about food box program |

USDA meets virtually with produce industry about food box program

-The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture Department officials who have a direct responsibility for the Farmers to Families food box program to deliver produce to food banks amid the coronavirus pandemic met virtually Friday afternoon with United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel and Produce Marketing Association CEO Cathy Burns, United Fresh said in an email to produce industry members.

The meeting was “in response to our earlier joint letter offering input on the program as it continues to roll out across the country,” Stenzel and Burns said in the email letter.

“We had an open and candid dialogue on many topics we have each heard from our members, including challenges faced in the RFP (Request for Proposal) process, and discussion about how the program is operating today,” they said. “We’re pleased to report that USDA’s tracking data show that more than 3 million boxes have already been delivered.”

“As this program is just two weeks into operation, USDA is evaluating everything they are learning from current contracts and developing new plans for a second round beginning July 1. We heard about extensive analysis and audits to verify what is actually taking place under current contracts, which gives us confidence in USDA’s oversight of the program.

“While a specific course ahead is not yet official, USDA shared that their current thinking is that current contract holders who are demonstrating excellence in fulfilling their contracts will have the opportunity to be considered for extension in the next round. Also, they believe new offerors will be considered, particularly where there are unmet needs to serve people in need.”

Stenzel and Burns also said USDA officials were “very open and receptive to suggestions we’ve heard from you about how to best meet the needs of food banks, serving regions that are now under-served, providing diversity of commodities, and better demonstrating capabilities in the bidding process. We reaffirmed that we believe one of the goals of the program is to support companies that have suffered from the loss of foodservice business.”

The USDA press office did not respond to a request for comment on the meeting.

Stenzel had earlier noted that some established firms had not gotten contracts to buy produce and deliver it to food banks while lesser known firms did.

On Friday, CRE8AD8 — a Texas events firm that drew criticism after landing a federal pact to distribute food to needy families — delivered its first 235 boxes to the local food bank, the San Antonio Express-News reported.