The Government Accountability Office, or GAO released a report this week which revealed 2,700 millionaires were among the 1.8 million entities which received government farm payments between 2003 and 2006.
According to the GAO, most of the millionaires likely were ineligible to receive the money due to caps on annual income. But the Agriculture Department can't confirm that, because unlike the GAO, USDA is NOT allowed access to Internal Revenue Service information on individuals.
Speaking at a press conference in Chicago, this week, President-Elect Obama cited the report as a "prime example" of government waste he intends to stop.
Some of the farmers not likely to appear on the millionaire list are America's small-scale producers who often direct market their goods at one of America's 4,300 farmers markets.
Typically, these small-to-medium size operations must overproduce in order to supply growing demand for their fresh fruit and vegetables. Despite the fact that millions of Americans do not have enough to eat, most of the unsold produce either rots in the field or ends up in the local landfill.
But an innovative program in Idaho is hoping to bridge the gap between the harvest and the hungry. As Laurel Bower Burgmaier explains, the operation gives new meaning to the old adage of "waste not – want not."
Amy Grey, Backyard Harvest: "There's a lot of people within our communities because of the cost of produce nowadays in grocery stores, which they think they can't afford to purchase it. And so whether it's seniors, whether it's families that are, you know, both parents are working and they're still coming up short at the end of each month. So when they go to the grocery store, you know, fresh produce may not be an option, or they end up at a food bank and oftentimes it's not available. "
Amy Grey is the founder of Backyard Harvest, a non-profit organization based in Moscow Idaho. Created in 2006, Backyard Harvest is a coalition of small growers who take their extra produce either after harvest or at the end of a farmer's market, and donate it to food banks and senior centers.
Amy Grey, Backyard Harvest: "In a lot of ways backyard harvest sort of found me. It was serendipitous. I accidentally -- It was my first vegetable garden and my small boys were out with me and we were planting lettuce seeds. We accidentally grew 200 heads of lettuce. And, you know, we have friends but we don't have like 200 heads of lettuce worth of friends. And so that sort of prompted the first visit to the food bank."
This is how Backyard Harvest works. First, Grey calls local gardeners and farmers in Moscow and surrounding towns to see if they would like to donate extra produce. She picks up the donations and provides drop-off bins. She also picks up produce growers don't sell at farmers markets.
Amy Grey, Backyard Harvest: "When I first started the project, I was hesitant to go to the professional growers because I thought, oh gosh, this what they're doing for their living. I mean this is their livelihood. And we found that, particularly at the farmers market, that growers at the end of that market day for really perishable things like, you know, lettuces and stuff like that, it's either move them or lose them. So they felt really good about having that option."
Then, within 24 hours, Grey delivers the fruit and vegetables to food banks and senior centers in need.
Joanne Kirkland, Hope Center Food Bank: "It really means that the clients who come here have a choice. That's what we are very happy about in this area is more choice for them and that they have access to fresh produce that they might not have access to otherwise. "
Last year, volunteers donated over 1,400 to Backyard Harvest. In its first season, the organization collected 4,400 pounds of fresh produce for the community. Three years later, that amount tripled to 14,000 pounds and continues to grow.
Amy Grey, Backyard Harvest: "There's a lot of problems that we as a community can't solve that are just bigger than ourselves. But this seemed to me to be a problem that we could solve."
Grey says each week over 1,000 families in the region seek assistance from local food banks and meal programs. She adds while canned and packaged goods are mainstays, fresh produce is often missing from the shelves.
Linda Iverson-Williams, Moscow, ID: "It's nice to have this when you do come to a food bank, that's not just canned stuff. It's nice having fresh stuff, and locally grown is just really a big plus."
Bethanne Broux, Moscow, ID: "When we started coming here to the food bank, we were really blessed with all the food we got. But we were talking about it just a few days before Amy started bringing her stuff down here and we were saying, oh, it's a shame we can't get any salads or tomatoes or whatever. And voila, we came the next Sunday and here they were and I was ecstatic."
As a full-time mother and freelance graphic designer, Grey admits working on Backyard Harvest can be exhausting. But, she credits her community and the eagerness of the volunteers for its success.
Amy Grey, Backyard Harvest: " I think that I was just blessed to end up in a place that has a really vibrant local food seen and, and network and community whether it's CSA farmers that are producing for the local farmers market or whether it's community gardens who have community gardens both in Moscow and Pullman. We have two really vibrant and involved universities Washington State University, University of Idaho that have organic farm programs."
Brad Jaeckel, Washington State University: "we provide space for backyard harvest to grow those plants and we also grow extra starts of our own that we then donate and anything that we have extra of also we can, we can go towards Amy. I mean sometimes she has extra from her that we can use so it's ah, it's a great partnership."
Thanks to Backyard Harvest, 16 area food banks and meal programs receive locally grown produce regularly from May to October. Recipients enjoy over 20 different kinds of vegetables and a large variety of fruit gleaned from nearly 300 trees in area orchards.
Bethanne Broux, Moscow, ID: "I love vegetables. We have four children so it's kind of hard to find that, that much fresh food for them to eat because they like to eat, I have three boys besides her, and they eat constantly. So it's nice to have it."
Amy Grey, Backyard Harvest: "People are extraordinarily generous when it comes to food and produce and extraordinarily proud of what they, what they grow and, and it's funny cause you know I have some people ask me well you know what's the quality of the produce? It's always been nicer stuff that people are giving me from their gardens and, and I think you know there was this woman at one of the food banks who sort of said that she liked the produce better because she knew it came from a community that made her feel loved in a way that the donations, the monetary donations because someone had invested their time to grow that and then to give it away and, and I think that's sort of the special warm fuzzy feeling that backyard harvest can provide to people on all the ends of the spectrum. They're giving, they're receiving."
It seems the generous spirit of Backyard Harvest is spreading. Two branches of the organization have started up in California.
For Market to Market, I'm Laurel Bower Burgmaier.