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Rural Groups Work to Boost Food Access, Help Farmers


Tuesday, September 21, 2021   

RALEIGH, N.C. -- More than $1 million in COVID-19 relief grants are helping rural organizations increase their focus on locally sourced food relief.

Merry Davis, director of healthy food for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina, explained the grants, issued in partnership with The Conservation Fund, focused on non-urban counties.

She said rural regions continue to face significant challenges.

"A lot of these rural communities are high-yield agricultural areas and a lot of these organizations are partnering with small and mid-sized farms to provide local food," Davis outlined. "So not only is it providing people food, but it's also supporting local farmers."

The need for food has increased in North Carolina as the pandemic drags on, with nearly 20% of all residents facing food insecurity, according to the group Feeding America.

Deborah Freeman, program director for the Good Shepherd Food Pantry of Bertie County, said the extra cash will help her organization support local farmers, bring more produce to families, and provide commercial refrigeration to extend the shelf life needed to distribute fresh produce.

"We were able to get a commercial freezer, a commercial refrigerator," Freeman recounted. "We were able to locate local farmers in the area, purchase food from them. That food went to the farmer's market."

Dru Zucchino, executive director of TRACTOR Food and Farms in Yancey County, said the support has helped his group expand services across western North Carolina, increasing access to community-grown foods to more than 11,000 food-insecure individuals.

"We were able to reach whoever needed it, so if we ran out in one place we could continue serving that constituency, or that population, without question," Zucchino pointed out. "It was super important to have that flexibility through a pandemic."

Federal data released earlier this month showed nationwide, food insecurity spiked among households with children, Black households and households in the South.

The food-insecurity gap between Black and white households has widened, with 21.7% of Black households not knowing where their next meal would come from, compared with 7.1% of white households.

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