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What a beautiful and diverse landscape there is in Colorado. And like its neighboring state of New Mexico, Colorado has its own hunger needs. Feeding Colorado, an association of five Feeding America food banks, supplies food to over 1,500 agencies in 64 counties. In fact, one out of every eight Coloradans struggles with food insecurity.

Tom Reed, food procurement manager of Community Food Share in Longmont, CO, which distributes food to in Boulder and Broomfield counties, said that his growers have been very generous. In these two counties alone, 50,000 people are below the poverty line, and that number is on the rise.

One such grower, Dan Frihauf of the Byers Co., believes in helping those less fortunate and keeping food from being plowed under.

Tom Reed of Community Food Share told me that Mr. Frihauf and his company donated 52,000 pounds of pinto beans in July. And to help the food bank, another partner, the Trinidad Bean Co. in Sterling CO, cleaned all the pinto beans and packed them in 2,000-pound totes.

This generous partnership feeds hungry people who wouldn't have otherwise had a good-quality protein source such as pinto beans. And, it created an $18,000 savings to the food bank, which could be used to obtain more food for the hungry in its community.

Mr. Frihauf said that he now understands that donating unsalable product to a food bank is another option to dumping.

Developing the relationship between a grower and a food bank takes time. But Rod Lenz of Lenz Family Farms in Holyoke, CO, is a proponent of this type of partnership. In 2009, he donated 129,000 pounds of potatoes. "I would much rather donate good quality food than turn under," he said.

What can you donate to a local food bank? Food banks accept misshaped product, whether in the field or after grading; imperfect-looking product; or overproduced product.

Sometimes food banks can help defray the packaging costs by providing bins or boxes, or by working with a grower on bulk packaging 50- or 100-pound sacks. Every food bank has volunteers who help repack bulk items into smaller family or individual-sized quantities. Volunteers provide valuable support to food banks to repack produce for easier distribution.

Tony Alexis, vice president of operations for Food Bank of the Rockies, explained how important his partnerships are with growers to his food bank. “Last year, we were able to distribute more than 35 million pounds of food,” he said. “Growers provide a tremendous resource for us to feed hungry people. Without them, it would be difficult to provide consistent produce to the hungry. “

Mr. Alexis’s food bank has had a longstanding relationship with Sakata Farms. “During these tough economic times, we here at Sakata are aware that needy families have to supplement their food budgets,” said Joanne Sakata. “It is very satisfying for us to see our surplus produce used in a direct and immediate way to feed the hungry of Colorado.”

“Our donor partners have a sense of helping within their own community,” continued Mr. Alexis. “They realize the food they give to us could be helping a friend, associate or family member. It’s all about completing the full circle of growing food and then eating it.”

Mike Franqui of Colo-Pac Produce, another donor partner of the Food Bank of the Rockies, feels that his company tries very hard to give back to their community.

“Dealing with Food Bank of the Rockies makes the donation process easy and they reach so many hungry people,” said Mr. Franqui.

Colorado ranks second in the United States for shipping fresh potatoes. Mountain King is one of those grower-shippers that has provided millions of pounds of fresh potatoes, not only to hungry Coloradans but nationwide, through the Feeding America food bank network.

As a food donor, a company is protected in another way, too. A law passed in October 1996 called the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act further protects from any civil and criminal liability a food donor that gives to a 501c3 charitable organization and donates wholesome food in good faith. To view the law on the USDA web site, visit www.usda.gov/news/pubs/gleaning/appc.htm.

Just as food safety and proper food handling are crucial in the food business, they are also just as important to food banks. Through the national food bank network known as Feeding America, all affiliated Feeding America food banks and partner agencies must comply with strict rules on safe handling of food, cold chain integrity and operations.

What does this mean with regard to donating produce? It means that all donated product is safely and properly handled until it reaches the client. To find a local food bank in your area, visit www.feedingamerica.org. Then ask to meet with the food-sourcing contact in that food bank and find out how you can develop a partnership to help the hungry in your community. Be sure to verify that the food bank has all the rules and regulations in place for the protection of the donation. Also, contact your state department of agriculture and start a rapport with it, too. Many state agriculture departments have a great relationship with the food banks in their communities.

Remember, you do have choices when it comes to your excess product. Consider making donation your first choice.

(Julie Anderson is the food sourcing liaison for the Roadrunner Food Bank. She can be reached by phone at 505/349-8933 or by e-mail at julie@rrfb.org.)