Low-income residents, who comprise the majority of clients in pantries and meals programs, consume much less fresh fruit and vegetables than average, and far less than the USDA minimum recommended daily portions of five servings per day. At the same time, many food pantries are not able to stock and distribute enough fresh local produce to meet the needs of their clients. While much of this gap can be attributed to the fact that fresh produce is more perishable than shelf-stable processed foods, other factors that limit the availability of fresh produce among food pantry and meals program clients, include the limited capacity that many pantries and meals have to transport and refrigerate fresh food, as well as limited hours of operation and staff or volunteer time. As a result, food pantries and meals programs often rely on shelf-stable products, many of which are high-calorie, high-sugar foods to meet clients’ needs.
Supporting food pantries and meals programs to increase the use and distribution of locally produced foods offers many opportunities to increase production, sales, and consumption of Massachusetts-grown food while addressing the need for healthy foods.
Recommendation 6.1: Increase purchase of locally produced food through the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP).
Action 6.1.1: Identify ways and implement strategies to increase distribution and production of culturally appropriate and preferred foods available for purchase through MEFAP.
Action 6.1.2: Modify food procurement contract language to utilize at least ten percent of MEFAP dollars to purchase locally produced, healthy food.
Action 6.1.3: Identify what, if any, shelf-stable, non-perishable food products purchased through MEFAP have the potential to be grown or produced in Massachusetts, and support the production of identified item(s) for inclusion in the program.
Action 6.1.4: Identify capacity and efficiency limitations related to the distribution of locally produced, healthy food in emergency food distribution facilities, such as refrigeration, storage, and timely acceptance of donations that may be limiting the capacity of food pantries and meals programs. Identify funding and implement solutions.
Recommendation 6.2: Foster more direct connections among hunger relief agencies and local farmers, fishermen, and food producers.
Action 6.2.1: Scale existing relationships between hunger relief organizations and farms to increase distribution of locally produced, healthy foods. Identify and support establishment of new partnerships, including provision of public and private support as needed.
Action 6.2.2: Foster relationships between hunger relief organizations and fishermen to increase the distribution of locally caught fish, with a focus on distributing lesser known and eaten species that are abundant in Massachusetts.
Action 6.2.3: Consider the need for a community of practice among food pantry and meals providers to share best practices and promote communication.