Hunger Series Part II: America’s Farmers Grow Communities


This article is the second in a series about how farmers and rural communities are helping to address hunger in their areas.

The needs of the needy in communities of all sizes range from clothing to money to pay bills. But the most important need for many is food.

“We have a lot of programs at our agency. The food pantry is most widely used,” said Annie Skowneski, Emergency Services case manager for the Community Action Food Pantry, supporting local areas near Orleans and Genesee County in New York. “I have clients in need of utility payments, rent payments, a winter coat—but food is always the biggest need.”

 Sometimes, extenuating circumstances mean families rely on food pantries to get by.

“’I lost my job. My husband left. There are a lot of medical bills.’ These are some of the situations that drive patrons to our pantry,” said Lois Patton, coordinator at the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry in Keenesburg, Colorado.

Since launching in 2010, the America’s Farmers Grow CommunitiesSM program, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund, has invested $635,000 toward rural hunger-related organizations. Farmers are selected as winners and choose a local non-profit organization for their donation. Food pantries, many of which are operated by local churches and community relief centers, are one of the top hunger-related recipients of the grants.

The donating farmers are aware of circumstances in their communities, so they didn’t hesitate when the time came to direct the donations to a worthy cause.

“I worked for a grain elevator for several years, so I know many of the farmers,” said Patton. “They donate often, and they do so, not for any glory, but out of the kindness of their hearts.

“I’ve known Curtis Baumgartner, the donating farmer, for many years, and I was thrilled when he called me about the $2,500 donation. We were able to stock our freezers with meat. We’ve had canned spam and tuna, but until this donation, we’ve never had meat to distribute on a regular basis.”

“Our donating farmer, Jean Peglow, is amazing. She knew our mission and vision, and helped push us forward by selecting us to receive this donation,” said Skowneski. “The pantries needed the funding. We were able to split the donation among three pantries for a three-month period, supporting nearly 460 families. Without this additional funding, we would have had to turn families away.”

The food pantries are supporting the community in other ways as well.

“We purchased produce from a grocery store that utilizes produce from area farmers,” said Skowneski. “So, not only did we fill the pantries, but were also able to support our local farmers.

“We’re not giving people food that we wouldn’t eat ourselves. Just because they are low-income, doesn’t mean they don’t get the option to eat good food. With the money we received, we were able to provide people with those items.”

Patton explained that she can relate to clients from personal experience.

“I was there myself many years ago when I lost my husband and raised four little children alone. You think asking for help is the most horrible thing you’ve ever had to do, but once you get there, you realize the people within the organization understand. They care about what happens to you and your kids.”

Both organizations credited their existence to human generosity.

“I will have people call me anonymously and tell me a neighbor or friend could use a food box,” said Patton. “In addition, a lot of community members tell me to call them for donations if our pantry is low, and we need items.”

“Without the support of our communities, we wouldn’t exist,” said Skowneski. “We are grateful to the donating farmer, the Monsanto Fund and the local community for the support they have provided.

“You’ll never truly understand the impact unless you see the faces of the families that received this food.”