Drought conditions across the Midwest are wreaking havoc on farmers who can't afford to feed their animals. It's a reality that has the USDA stepping in and spending millions on the food supply -- and it could mean good news for hungry families here in Vermont.
Inside the Vermont Foodbank's distribution center in Barre, quality meat is hard to find.
"It's critically important. High-quality protein is the most important thing that we can get and it's the most difficult thing to keep in stock," said the Foodbank's John Sayles.
Monday the federal government announced it's stepping up to help. In an effort to assist farmers hit hard by summer drought, the USDA plans to buy up to 170-million dollars in pork, lamb, chicken and fish for foodbanks and food assistance programs across the country.
"That is just an awesome thing to find out. We never have meat, mainly because we can't afford to purchase it through the USDA program," said Bonnie Pease, the Foodbank's Operations Supervisor.
"The fact that USDA is increasing the amount of food that they're distributing is really making up for a decrease that we've seen this year," Sayles said.
Traditionally about 3.5 million pounds of the Foodbank's supply comes from the USDA, however that total was down by about 13-percent this year alone.
"This USDA purchase was a surprise. We're very happy that they're doing this. We've put a lot of pressure on USDA this year to make additional bonus purchases," Sayles said.
Right now the Foodbank reaches more than 86-thousand Vermonters a year and has seen a 15-percent spike in demand in the last year. Sayles says as soon as the meat makes it's way to him, he'll be shipping it right back out the door. "That will go from the trucks to our freezer onto our inventory system and out to food shelves and meal sites across the state within a week," he said.
For the folks on the front lines of feeding Vermont's hungry, the new federal initiative is seen as a win-win. "The farmers will win because with the drought they can't afford to feed their cattle and the clients will win because we don't ever get the meat, so it's going to be a wonderful contribution to us," Pease said.
The Foodbank says it could be 2 to 3 months before shipments make their way to Vermont.
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