VERONA -- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Verona on Tuesday to sign legislation designed to benefit not only Virginia food banks, but the comonwealth's farmers as well.
The legislation, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline in the Virginia House of Delegates and Sen. Creigh Deeds in the Senate, authorizes a tax credit of up to $5,000 a year for Virginia farmers donating nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables to food banks. Farmers are credited for up to 30 percent of the food's fair market value.
According to Blue Ridge Area Food Bank CEO Michael McKee, the credit should help increase the donation of "fresh, wholesome produce [by] reducing the costs to farmers for harvesting and transporting leftover fruits and vegetables in their fields."
McKee said his organization must now purchase fresh produce from North Carolina, Maryland — even as far away as the Canadian province of Quebec.
The food bank serves 118,600 people each month through food pantries, soup kitchens, schools, churches and other nonprofit groups in 25 Virginia counties and eight cities.
The need for its services has remained steady, food bank officials say, and nationally, food banks expect increases over the next decade in the number of clients considered "food insecure." Food insecurity deals with the supply of food a person has, and a person's access to food.
McKee is hopeful the legislation signed Tuesday by McAuliffe will spur more local donations and reduce the need to buy produce from so far away.
"This will cut down on transportation [and harvesting] costs," said the food bank CEO, who hopes the phone will start ringing from area farmers as soon as news of the tax credit gets out. "[The credit] will be a boon for farmers, and hungry individuals and families."
Weyers Cave farmer Gerald Garber said locally grown produce is catching on in Augusta County, including everything from tomatoes to melons to green vegetables. And while Garber does not think local farmers will harvest produce just for the tax credit, he thinks the tax credit will spur farmers not to waste surplus food.
"This does more to save a good crop,'' said Garber, who recalls seeing a farmer plow a healthy crop of broccoli because he had met his quota for that season.
John Matheny, the owner of Nu-Beginning Farm The Store in Staunton, purchases produce, meats, eggs, trout and numerous other agricultural products from farmers in seven area counties.
Matheny said he knows farmers who donate to charities like the Valley Mission in Staunton. He believes the new tax credit would be welcomed by farmers. "They are open to helping the hungry,'' he said. "I can't imagine them not wanting to benefit."
McAuliffe said that while Virginia farmers are generous, "they incur transportation costs'' when bringing their goods to markets and that can understandably discourage many from donating to food banks and similar organizations.
The governor also said the tax credit is "the right thing to do. It will help a lot of people in the commonwealth."
Virginia's first lady, Dorothy McAuliffe, has faith that the $250,000 annual cap on the tax credit can be raised once the program has been in operation. "This is a beginning,'' said McAuliffe , who joined her husband for the bill signing.
She said the tax credit "is a win-win for all of us," adding that a nutritious diet, which groups like the food bank help provide to needy families and individuals is the best medicine for chronic disease.
Cline, R-Rockbridge, said the idea for the legislation came after a tour of the food bank, where he learned of the distances the non-profit organization had to ship in food from. He hopes the tax credit can lead to an effective partnership between food banks and farmers.
Deeds, a Bath County Democrat, said it is common for him and the Republican Cline "to work together on a lot of things."
Deeds said he has seen hunger up close in his Senate district.
"I represent some of the poorest and most rural parts of the state,'' he said. He hopes the tax credit will not only help the poor with better access to healthy food, but serve as a promotion for Virginia agriculture.
You may contact Bob Stuart at (540) 932-3562 or email@example.com.