Food bank looks to Minnesota growers, food producers

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Second Harvest Heartland warehouse (Courtesy of Second Harvest)

The Minnesota Pork Board today donated 1,860 pounds of ground pork to Second Harvest Heartland, a Maplewood-based food bank. The pork is worth about $5,000, a tiny piece of Minnesota’s yearly yield from some 14 million hogs.

But for a food bank seeking new ways to find food, the donation is good news. Second Harvest distributes to hundreds of food shelves and meal programs in a 59-county area of southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Those organizations have seen a big jump in need since the start of the economic downturn.

“Certainly 1,800 pounds isn’t going to fill that need, but it’s a start,” said David Frederickson, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who was on hand for today’s donation. “And I think that Minnesota pork producers are on to something here.”

Second Harvest Heartland is exploring ways to find more — and different — food.

“While we love the traditional can drive food of peanut butter and beans, having some additional foods like pork is really important,” said Rob Zeaske, executive director of Second Harvest Heartland. “We’re always looking for not only more nutritious food, but we’re also looking for more variety in those kinds of foods, and something that people can build a meal around.”

While today’s donation is relatively small, Zeaske said it’s important for what it represents: a growing relationship between farmers and organizations that distribute food to people who need help.

“As we continue to try to find more food beyond our traditional manufactured style food, we need to work more with our growers,” he said.

Zeaske and others are also interested in tapping into Minnesota crops that go to waste each year, whether left in fields or discarded from grocery stores or farmers markets.

Dave Preisler, Executive Director of the Minnesota Pork Board, said farmers are interested in helping fight hunger.

“Living in rural communities, you care about your neighbor,” he said. “Hunger isn’t unique to urban areas, to downtown Twin Cities or somewhere else.”

Such donations can also help promote the product, Preisler said.

The Minnesota Pork Board engaged Minnesotans in conversations about pork — including where it comes from and how to cook it — over the summer. The board donated one pound of pork for each question asked by a member of the public.

“Just because you’ve gone to a food shelf once, because things may have changed with circumstances in your life, doesn’t mean you won’t be a purchasing consumer a month from now, or a year from now,” said Preisler. “So certainly there is promotion piece to this to, to let people know that we do raise a good, healthy product.”

He hopes the Minnesota Pork Board will be back again next year with a bigger donation.

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