Gleaning Tax Credit to Help Feed Central Kentucky

Jun 20, 2013

Student worker at UK's South Farm
Credit Stu Johnson / WEKU News

Just like a donation to a charity, farmers can now earn a tax break, if they share some of their crops with Kentucky’s poorer residents. 

  Supplying fresh produce to low-income Kentuckians has always been a challenge.   Given its short shelf life, food banks have a hard time keep vegetables in stock.  But, new state credit could improve the supply.  Tim Woods is an agricultural economist at the University of Kentucky calls it a valuable incentive.

“The tax credit is really something that just gets deducted off their tax bill, not just their taxable income, so if they have a tax credit of three, four, five hundred dollars, that actually comes directly off what their state tax bill would be,” said Woods.

When farmers donate produce, the new tax credit allows them to deduct ten percent of its value from their tax bills.  The incentive, which was approved this year by the Kentucky General Assembly, goes into effect next year.  Still, Woods says growers don’t expect to get rich off the credit.

“They’re not gonna get the value of what they would have selling it even to a wholesale market.  The tax credit is essentially going to lower their tax bill.  Noboby’s gonna go out and plant fence row to fence row, just so they can lower their tax bill,” added Woods.

Tamara Sandberg has high hopes for the new tax credit.  She directs the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.    While it will certainly help to get more produce into food banks, Sandberg says they also need more state funding…so they can also buy more produce outright.

“Producers tell us the tax credit is wonderful, but what they would really like is more funding for our purchase program. And so, we’re hoping, 38 other states actually provide general fund support for food banks for programs such as ours and we’re hoping in the 2014 session of the general assembly that money can be allocated for our farms to food banks program,” said Sandberg.

Sandberg says the availability of fresh vegetables varies widely among the state’s seven major food banks.  The Berea-based director says God’s Pantry, which serves much of central and eastern Kentucky, has a reliable supply of produce.

“They distributed about eight million pounds of produce last year, but then we have other members that haven’t been able to distribute a whole lot of produce yet.  We do know that less than one percent of the produce that was distributed by our members came from Kentucky farmers,” explained Sandberg.

Also working to improve the availability of fresh produce is an organization based in Lexington known as “Faith Feeds.”  The Central Kentucky cooperative is an association of people and faith communities who seek to alleviate hunger through gleaning.  In gleaning, they collect crops which are either unsuitable for grocery stores or could not be sold.  Erica Horn is president of Faith Feeds.

“We look for and then pick up excess fresh produce from farmers markets, or grocery stores, or farmers, or farms, or orchards and then take that excess that would otherwise go to waste and deliver it to people who are hungry,” said Horn.

Horn says volunteers collect the produce and deliver it to well over 25 locations in and around Lexington.  She says they might also deliver fruits and veggies to inner city residents.

“We have a neighborhood ambassador.  We take it to her front yard and then her neighbors come and choose from that 150 pounds of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, corn, cantaloupe,” added Horn.

Time and travel work against people providing fresh produce. If it sits around too long, or is moved long distances, it can spoil.  However, Horn says it’s a problem for Faith Feeds…which often provides same day delivery.

“We move the food within an hour.  We pick it up and we take it to a place we know can use it and we’ve never had anyone say I’m not gonna be able to use that today or we’ve never had anybody say, ‘oh my gosh, that’s too much,” explained Horn.

In the rare case when too much produce is gathered, Horn says recipients, on their own, often pass along the food to other needy agencies and individuals.

On the University of Kentucky’s South Farm in Lexington, volunteers with Faith Feeds are often seen gleaning fresh food.  Recently, Executive Director Jennifer Erena loaded several bags of spinach into  her SUV.  It’s a task she can repeat several hundred times a year.

“I put about 380 gleaning trips on the calendar from April to just the end of December between grocery stores, the farmers markets, and those are more of our routine things,” said Erena.

Home gardens are another potential source of produce, the gardeners may also qualifty for the state tax credit.  Over time, Erena hopes her gleaning operation grows so it also encompasses such smaller operations….

“We just got to know other farmers and other sources and we continue to find other sources.  We wanting to tap into the backyard gardener who always at some point in time has access and we don’t want it to go to waste.  And then, also, to plant a role intentionally for donation,” added Erena.

Since 20-10, nearly ten tons of produce has been collected through Faith Feeds.  Still Faith Feeds President Erica Horn says a lot of food is wasted. Some estimates show as much as 40-percent of food is wasted… enough to feed all of the world’s hungry residents.