by Mindy Waite
We all know that living in Maryland isn’t cheap; cost of living calculators generally rank the state within the top 10-15 most expensive states. In fact, a 2012 study by the Maryland Community Action Partnership suggested that a family of four (two adults, two kids) required an income of at least $62,669 to reach “self-sufficiency,” which is the income needed by a household to support itself without assistance. That’s $15.01/hr per adult, over twice the minimum wage! Families making less may experience hardships, including food insecurity, yet government assistance is only available for families making less than $22,350. The gap between $22,350 and $62,669 is huge, especially in an economy where incomes are decreasing and jobs are less secure.
To assist Maryland families in need, the Hub & Spoke Task Force was created by the Maryland legislature to develop a model within Southern Maryland (Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s, but moving to include part of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel) to improve fresh farm food access for working poor and low-income communities. Much of the model is based on Bernie Fowler Jr.’s non-profit, Farming 4 Hunger, which grew and donated over 1.6 million pounds fresh food for food-insecure families this year. However, the non-profit would like to see a much wider variety of food, a longer food production season to feed those in need and a better food distribution system.
In their Report, the Hub & Spoke Task Force maps out areas of food-insecurity and need within the region and makes recommendations on increasing the quantity and variety of fresh food donations, improving food distribution (time, location, marketing, etc), providing food education and outreach and more.
The Report also contains several very innovative recommendations, including the creation of a state tax credit for farm businesses donating fresh produce. After all, I get a tax break for donating my clothes, so why shouldn’t a farmer get credit for donating their food? And even though farms sometimes have surplus or unmarketable (but edible and delicious) food due to slight imperfections, it costs the farmer to harvest, package and transport the donation. While it’s nice to think that farmers would basically pay to donate food out of the goodness of their heart (and they do!), it’s important to remember that most business donations are tax deductible, and a farm product should be no exception. Additionally, if the Task Force wants to increase the amount of food donated beyond what is already freely given, it will require some extrinsic incentives, such as a tax credit.
On the labor side, the Report proposes continued and expanded use of unique labor opportunities. For example, Farming 4 Hunger currently benefits from (and aids) correctional labor communities. The Task Force suggests that others large farms looking to donate food could also utilize this free work force, or even use unemployed laborers, which provides the farmer with a temporary work force and income to people looking for work. Additionally, there is talk of utilizing the meat-processing skills gained by inmates at the Hagerstown processing plant at a Southern Maryland meat processing plant staffed by skilled post-release workers.
The Hub & Spoke Task Force consists of representatives from Farming 4 Hunger, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Maryland Comptroller’s Office, Maryland House of Delegates, Maryland Senate, Southern Maryland Minister’s Alliance and the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission. If you would like more information regarding the Report or the Task Force’s recommendations or deliberations, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.