TOWAMENCIN — Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal to add $2 million to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) is a good investment, supporters said Wednesday at Garden of Health’s garden in Harleysville.
“We really want to make sure that good, healthy food is accessible to families in the commonwealth. We also need to make sure we’re bolstering this part of our economy,” said state Rep. Liz Hanbridge, D-61st. Dist. “Making sure that we have good farms that are well-maintained and that we’ve got access to food for people is also a good way to preserve the land.”
During the pandemic, there have been many calls from people dealing with food instability for the first time, she said.
“PASS connects the nonprofit sector to farms and food processors to help solve problems of hunger and food waste,” the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said in a release. “The program funds the, transport, processing and packaging of surplus food from Pennsylvania farms that is either intentionally planted for donation or would otherwise go to waste.”
The food is distributed through a contract with Feeding Pennsylvania and a network of 13 regional, charitable food distributors, the information said.
Garden of Health, which provides produce and other healthy foods to food pantries, Meals on Wheels, weekend backpacks and other organizations in Montgomery and Bucks counties assisting people with food insecurities, has in the past 18 months donated 6,500 pounds of produce into PASS for local distribution.
“We started working with the PASS program in 2020. We are very excited to work with them,” Garden of Health founder and COO Carol Bauer said. “They reimburse us for the produce that we donate back to the food pantries. That money helps us recoup our costs here and allows us to continue to grow year after year.”
In 2020, Garden of Health distributed more than 200,000 pounds of produce that it grew or that was donated by farmers, Bauer said.
She encouraged farmers to use PASS and donate to food pantries.
“We need to get more healthy food and fresh produce to individuals,” Bauer said. “We believe that just because you need food assistance shouldn’t mean that you don’t have the ability to pack fresh produce and support your family with healthy food.”
Along with providing food for those in need, Garden of Health also teaches people how to grow their own organic produce, she said.
“We’re so grateful to have a partner like this who looks at this as a real opportunity to not only feed people, but teach people about the process of growing their own food,” said Feeding Pennsylvania CEO Jane Clements.
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Cheryl Cook said every state should have a PASS program.
Last year, federal stimulus funding during the pandemic was used to add to the PASS money, she said.
“We got millions of extra dollars in the PASS program, managed them responsibly, helped an awful lot of people, helped farmers who were instantly losing their school markets and other markets literally overnight as businesses were closing down and schools were closing down,” Cook said.
PASS has great potential to keep growing, she said.
A recent study by Penn State found that each dollar invested in PASS returns $2 to the state’s agriculture sector, Clements said.
“Under the Wolf Administration, PASS has distributed more than 22 million pounds of surplus food from farmers to Pennsylvanians in need, while simultaneously generating more than $39 million in economic output,” the PDA release said.
About 10,000 pounds of produce is raised per year at Garden of Health’s current one-acre garden, Bauer said.
Garden of Health will be moving to an almost eight-acre property donated to Hatfield Township by Clemens Food Group, with work there beginning this summer or fall aiming to have the first food grown in 2023.
“We’re really looking forward to that,” Hatfield Township Commissioner Deborah Zimmerman said. “There’s a lot of volunteers in Hatfield already anxious to come out and help her and we’re just very happy that Carol approached us and that we were able to work this out because it is a wonderful cause.”