By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – Making the best of a bad situation, many county Farm Bureau organizations in Idaho have provided food banks and other feeding organizations with food donations or financial help during the coronavirus outbreak.
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members used financial donations from county Farm Bureau groups in North Idaho to purchase and distribute 1,100 50-pound bags of potatoes to food banks across North Idaho in late April.
Further south, Bannock County Farm Bureau has donated $3,000 to the Idaho Foodbank and another $3,000 to a School District 25 program that helps feed needy students.
The North Idaho effort ended up helping farmers as well as food banks.
County Farm Bureau organizations from throughout North Idaho pitched in to come up with about $7,000 that was used to purchase potatoes from East Idaho.
An almost complete shutdown in purchases of potatoes and potato products for restaurants and other foodservice channels due to reaction to the coronavirus outbreak has caused some pain for potato growers and processors, who suddenly have a lot more supply than demand.
“We wanted to help out the potato industry, which has been impacted by the outbreak and has a glut of potatoes, while at the same time help supply food banks with an important product,” said Bob Smathers, an IFBF regional manager in North Idaho who coordinated the project. “There is a big demand up here for food and that demand has increased over the last six weeks.”
A semi-load of potatoes was delivered to the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on April 27. Food banks in Coeur d’Alene picked up their share of the spuds, while Smathers and IFBF Director of Commodities Zak Miller spent the next few days delivering the rest of the potatoes to other food banks.
A total of 18 food banks as far north as Bonners Ferry and as far south as Grangeville received the potatoes.
“The food banks are really excited about it,” Smathers said. “One that will get 126 sacks said it would last two weeks and another food bank that will get 230 sacks said that’s about a three-weekly supply for them.”
Kootenai-Shoshone County Farm Bureau President Joe Dobson said the county Farm Bureau organizations plan to repeat the effort and soon deliver a similar amount of potatoes to food banks in the area.
“Certainly, there was a need from the food banks and with Idaho being the No. 1 potato state in the nation, we felt we could take one of our natural resources and utilize it to help our food banks out,” he said. “It’s one of those staple foods that people could survive on alone if they had to.”
Dobson said feedback from the food banks that received the spuds has been very positive.
“They’re tickled to death and this is really going to help them,” he said.
In Bannock County, the annual spring Ag Days event at the Guthrie Ranch in Inkom was canceled this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Bannock County Farm Bureau officials decided to take the $6,000 that was budgeted for the event, which teaches fourth-graders about agriculture, and give it to feeding programs instead.
“We thought that would be a good place for the money and it is still helping the kids,” said BCFB President Brett Casperson.