Food banks struggle to receive produce under new trucking mandates

Posted at 7:37 PM, May 14, 2018

The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County prides itself on its ability to distribute fresh produce to those in need, but this year they’ve had to cancel some shipments due to a drastic rise in transportation costs.

"Last year 52 percent of our total volume of food distributed was fresh produce," Director of Operations Tim Parker said.

Looking around the food bank’s warehouse, boxes of fresh produce wait to be sorted for distribution to community partners, but some are missing.

"In some cases we’re actually not taking in planned shipments of fresh produce," Parker explained. "Freight bills have gone up to the extent that sometimes its just not worth it to even say yes to them."

A new, 2018 mandate requires truckers to track hours driven in a new electronic logging device. The mandate shot up prices for shipping produce from surrounding areas and states. Parker said the organization usually splits the cost of shipping between other close by food banks to cut down on costs, but that often isn’t a reality now.
"What we’re experiencing now is that on some of those longer haul routes, formerly we might have expected to split a freight bill between the food banks of let’s say 400 dollars. We’re seeing sometimes double or triple that amount," he said.

Turning down shipments means impacting programs like the breakfast program and children’s farmers market that many low income or in need families rely on for nutrition assistance during the summer.

"A lot of those produce items that we order in bulk we do rely on those," Nutrition Program Manager Melissa Danehey said.

Danehey says across the county, 1,500 children are served monthly by the breakfast program and children’s farmers market and 3,000 families are served by the food bank’s resources. The food bank uses sources like Glean SLO to add more variety to the "staple produce items" distributed at the farmers market which come in through the bulk shipments. For now, the organization will use those resources like Glean SLO to fill in gaps left by the canceled shipments, but it’s yet to be seen just how big those gaps will be.

"We’re kind of doing our best to make sure we’re still able to keep our programs consistent," Danehey said.

A representative from the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau also told KSBY the organization is lobbying for agricultural truckers to be exempt from the ELD mandate as it affects both those sending and receiving time sensitive fresh produce.