A new study on USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program suggests the initiative could be tweaked to better aim its benefits to small- and mid-sized farmers as well as minority- and women-owned operations.

The study, completed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, offers a critique and recommendations moving forward while also pointing to several positive accomplishments of the program.

Overall, the study identified several successes: getting fresh food to many people who faced new or increased food insecurity, keeping some distribution workers employed, and initially providing an opportunity to recoup some income for farms that lost farmers market and other direct-to-consumer sales.

But the report also found that in subsequent rounds, changes led to more contracts going to bigger distributors that didn’t necessarily prioritize partnerships with small and mid-sized or minority-owned farms, despite USDA saying that was a goal.

In announcing the $1.5 billion fifth-round in early January, USDA said at that point more than 132 million boxes had been delivered through the Farmers to Families Food Box program.

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“This new round of Farmers to Families Food Boxes will go a long way in helping American families access nutritious and healthy meals as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” outgoing Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said on Jan. 4.

USDA has not yet said whether there will be another round after the current installment ends in April.

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