GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – A new program in Mississippi will aim to connect Gulf Coast farmers with food banks to provide local products with families in need.

A $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow the state to purchase food from local producers for food banks to distribute to underserved communities throughout the state over the next two years.

Mississippi is the hungriest state in the country with 16.3% of people food insecure.

The state’s three food banks: Feeding the Gulf Coast, Mid-South Food Bank and Mississippi Food Network will target the products from the program to the dozens of food deserts across the state.

“Many of the families we serve live in rural areas that have limited access to grocery stores and other sources of fresh, healthy food. The Local Food Purchase Assistance Program will give Mississippi Food Network access to locally grown fresh foods as well as the opportunity to reach previously underserved areas in our state,” said Miss. Food Network CEO Charles Beady, Jr.

The move also helps food banks as they struggle with product availability amid shortages in the supply chain.

“A real challenge as we’re trying to source food is to find folks that can work with us. To be able to do that locally is a powerful tool. Not only is it going to be an economic boon to Mississippians and to these farmers we’re going to be working with. We’re going to be able to take that food and put it right back into our community,” said Feeding the Gulf Coast CEO Michael Ledger.

The state department of agriculture is developing a directory of local farmers and food processors for the food banks to utilize to find local Mississippi food products. Eligible food items include fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat products, rice, eggs, value-added processed foods and beverages.

“Consumers like never before are looking for those local food sources, while inflation causes costs to soar,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson. “Farmers and producers will benefit from new market opportunities that will last well beyond this initial round of funding.”

Farmers and producers can apply to sell their products in the program at www.mdac.ms.gov/msfp/. Any farmer within 400 miles of Mississippi can apply. Socially disadvantaged farmers, including people of color and women, are especially encouraged to apply.

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