LYNDONVILLE — United Apple Sales and H.H. Dobbins Inc., which owns United Apple, couldn’t get their products into stores this spring because of changes brought on by COVID-19, so the businesses turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box program.
The USDA said its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is partnering with national, regional and local distributors, whose workforces have been significantly affected by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses, to purchase up to $4 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products from American producers of all sizes. The program supplies food boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat products and a combination box of fresh produce, dairy or meat products. Distributors package these products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.
“It (the program) took advantage of some of the apples that due to COVID, we didn’t have a home for,” United Apple Sales Executive Vice President Brett Baker said. “When COVID hit, the marketplace really changed. The buying demand really changed. We were no longer allowed to do demos in the supermarket. Trying to teach people about our varieties became extremely difficult.”
Baker said United Apple Sales sells the apples and H.H. Dobbins Inc. does the packaging. He said they were able to put the varieties they no longer had shelf space for in grocery stores out to recipients of the food box, who were able to try that new varieties. He said the price United Apple Sales would get wasn’t the amount supermarkets would pay, but it was higher than what United would get for apples sold for apple juice.
“They are going to different food pantries, different food banks, outreach-type organizations. The apples are sold into that food box program rather than being destroyed or only sold for apple cider,” he said. “They are sold for consumption. There are several different customers that are repacking the boxes. Each of them has a different specification of what they were looking for. The price depended on those specifications. While it wasn’t the premium dollar we intended originally – the food box program provided an alternate option for us to send the fruit to.”
United began to participate in the USDA program in the middle of May, Baker said.
“We supply the apples. There’s seven different produce items being combined into one box. We were doing the packing of the apples and we were doing the packing of the food boxes. We were combining all seven items,” he said. Baker said the varieties of apples packaged include SnapDragon, EverCrisp, Acey Mac and RubyFrost.
“The way that people are shopping now, using Instacart or going on Amazon, the foot traffic was not in the grocery stores,” he said.
Farmers to Families works with Perfect Pact, an organization primarily out of the Midwest.
“The packaging is done in the Midwest, but the office for Perfect Pact is located in Florida,” Baker said. Shipments are sent to New York City, Long Island, Philadelphia, Pa., and Connecticut, for example.
“We ship as far as Florida and Houston,” Baker said.
Following a tour of H.H. Dobbins last Friday, Congressman Chris Jacobs said Dobbins has an extremely impressive operation packaging and distributing fruit that harnesses the power of local labor and innovative technology.
“However, they are also a testament to USDA program’s success and the ability for local businesses to adapt. They took advantage of the Farmers to Families Food Box USDA program developed to aid growers and processors affected by COVID-19. This allowed them to keep their staff employed and supply families in need with nutritious food all around the country. These programs are vital to the restoration of our agriculture industry and seeing the benefits first-hand will make me that much stronger of an advocate for their continuation as we defeat COVID-19,” Jacobs said.