Task force aims to combat hunger.

The new Feeding Minnesota Task Force aims to strike out hunger by utilizing excess crops and unsold produce.

Task force aims to combat hunger.

Jill Jensen

While hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans are at risk of going hungry, Minnesota farmers are throwing out food because they donâÄôt have the means to sell it. The new Feeding Minnesota Task Force , established by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture , aims to combine these two separate problems to create a solution for both by bringing that extra food to those who need it most. The task force, charged with submitting a report on how to get excess food to hungry people to the Legislature by Nov. 1, 2010, consists of nine people. Those nine represent a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise, including University of Minnesota applied economics professor Elton Mykerezi. In 2007, nearly 16 million acres of planted land in the United States were left unharvested because often times, farmers âÄúmay not have the labor resources to harvest the remainder of the crop,âÄù said Minnesota Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Margaret Hart . âÄúTypically itâÄôs more efficient for them to not harvest it all,âÄù she said. The members met for the first time on Sept. 14 to discuss the different issues the task force might face, but have yet to make any concrete plans about how to solve them. Other fields represented at the meeting included food banks, food producer and grower organizations, food transportation, statewide agricultural organizations and food processors. John Hausladen , task force member and president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, described the task forceâÄôs membership as diverse. âÄúPeople who grow are good at growing,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre good at moving stuff. People that are good at serving people are good at serving people. So what the task force needs to do is to have everyone whoâÄôs good at that piece come together and shed light âĦ from their perspective to make it all work better.âÄù Mykerezi, who researches, poverty, food insecurity and social assistance at the University, said heâÄôs excited to take the knowledge heâÄôs developed through his research and apply it to a real-world issue. âÄúItâÄôs personally rewarding to see some of the knowledge IâÄôve accumulated or developed through my research âĦ actually go to work and be used by the policy makers and people who âĦ need to use that knowledge,âÄù he said. The biggest problem the task force faces is trying to coordinate food growers and food shelves so that excess food makes its way from one group to the other. âÄúThereâÄôs a logistics problem,âÄù said Ron Branch , treasurer of the Minnesota FarmersâÄô Market Association . âÄúThe problem here is youâÄôre busy picking and selling,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs not convenient or even workable âĦ to go somewhere else to drop off our food.âÄù Food shelves may also be closed for days at a time, and often lack the proper storage needed for fresh produce. On the farmerâÄôs end, growers will overplant crops in anticipation of bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances to ensure there will be enough, Branch said. He cited time, economic and financial restrictions as reasons why a farmer may not harvest the last of his crop. âÄúYou donâÄôt feel right about not picking it,âÄù he said.