“Look for the helpers.”
It’s a classic quote from Mr. Rogers that has seen a resurgence during the turmoil caused by COVID-19. While this pandemic is unprecedented, being a helper during crises is not new for peanut farmers. Whether pitching in to rebuild a school after a tornado, harvesting a crop for a neighboring grower who’s fallen ill or donating food to Haiti after the earthquake, USA peanut farmers always feel compelled to help. During this time of uncertainty, peanut growers and the wider industry are doing what they do best—continuing to produce a safe, high-quality food supply, trusting their faith and helping to ensure families in need don’t go hungry.
Agriculture is deemed a critical infrastructure industry, meaning America’s 7,000 peanut-farming families are hard at work preparing for spring planting, while taking the necessary precautions of social distancing. National Peanut Board alternate board member from Virginia Westley Drake wrote an op-ed column in The Tidewater News on March 26, 2020 during National Agriculture Week that reflects many farmers’ recent experiences:
As I look out of my kitchen window, I can see the sun slowly rising above the trees on the back of the farm. I cannot help but smile and thank God for allowing me to witness this beautiful display of His creation. I briefly turn on the TV and see a headline on the news related to the thousands of people who are either out of work or are working from home due to the recent coronavirus outbreak…As I change the channel to another station I see images of empty shelves in stores and people frantically shopping for food. I turn the TV back off because those headlines serve as a reminder that it’s time for me to go to work.
Not only are growers continuing their work on the farm, they are also donating to help the cause of food insecurity. Through the National Peanut Board, America’s peanut farmers recently donated 10,000 jars of peanut butter to hunger relief organizations through Peanut Proud, a non-profit industry organization dedicated to humanitarian efforts. NPB Chairman and Texas board member Peter Froese, Jr. said:
With so many people facing economic uncertainty, food banks are seeing increased demand. I count it a privilege for the peanut farming community to be able to produce and help provide nutritious food for our fellow American families during these trying times. We are so fortunate that God sustains the earth underneath our feet to continuously have the fortitude to produce from one season to the next. We are blessed to be able to extend a hand of hope for the wellbeing of our nation. It makes my heart smile when my kids prepare that thick peanut butter and jelly sandwich for snack time in between studies. I’m so glad all of our producers have a small part in spreading some peanut butter cheer to American schoolkids during this current crisis.
Growers are also doing their part in their local communities. NPB alternate board member from South Carolina Neal Baxley and several farmers from the Pee Dee area donated 1,500 jars of peanut butter to a local school district where 75 percent of the student population receives free or reduced-price school meals. In a segment on WBTW News 13, Baxley said, “There’s a lot of need out there with children being home from school and parents working so we decided to get together and do something about it. We have plenty and God wants us to share.”
Baxley’s donation has inspired other communities as well. In Alabama, NPB alternate board member Thomas Adams purchased a pallet of peanut butter—more than 1,400 jars—to donate to Judson Baptist Association which has ministry centers with food pantries for those in need. Initially, Adams didn’t want any extra attention brought to the donation. “If you want praise for the act of giving, you’re not doing it for the right reason,” he said. “But a lot of people in my community saw the story about Neal and I thought, well, it would be good to get the word out and maybe inspire others to give what they can, too.”
NPB Alabama alternate Board member Thomas Adams worked with Judson Baptist Association food bank director Linda Shepherd on a peanut butter donation for those in his community affected by the pandemic.
Adams also shared that in the nearby town of Dothan, home to the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds, the local Wiregrass food bank location opened a drive through, and a thousand people received food assistance. “Everyone is losing their jobs and the need is there,” he said. The Alabama Peanut Producers Association is also responding to the call with donations of 3,000 jars of Peanut Proud peanut butter.
With headlines that often seem to grow worse by the day, peanut farmers rely on their faith, their calling to produce America’s food supply and their role as helpers to bring hope and support for a better tomorrow.