With help from the Wal-Mart Foundation, the California Association of Food Banks plans to expand its produce recovery program — Farm to Family — by 15 million pounds of fresh produce and help other states set up similar programs.

The foundation gave the Oakland-based California Association of Food Banks $500,000 to grow the program. The association already partners with 114 growers and packers to provide 140 million pounds of fresh produce annually to 40 California food banks, according to a news release.

The donation from the Wal-Mart Foundation will also help with two research projects, Sue Sigler, association executive director, said in the release.

“CAFB will commission and publish a study identifying the environmental benefits of the Farm to Family model,” Sigler said in the release. “This research will contribute new knowledge on the sustainability benefits of produce recovery efforts.”

Sigler cited USDA statistics in the release that show 6 billion pounds of agricultural crops are being wasted annually in the U.S. The discarded and unharvested food includes about 3 billion pounds of fresh produce in California annually, according to the release, helping to make food waste the No. 1 material going into U.S. landfills.

The other research project planned is a pilot program to quantify the impact of increasing cold storage capacity at food pantries in terms of the pantries’ ability to distribute more fresh produce.

Outreach efforts to growers and packers will also benefit from the Wal-Mart Foundation donation. Sigler said in the release that California’s 36,000 growers represent an untapped market.

The 140 million pounds of produce annually recovered and distributed by the Field to Family program represents only 5% of the total agricultural food waste in California, according to the release.

The food bank association also plans a conference to help organizations in other states set up produce recovery programs.

“CAFB has been on the cutting edge of produce recovery efforts for the past decade. We look forward to seeing them expand Farm to Family in California, and beyond,” Wal-Mart Foundation senior manager Robert Kenny said in the release.

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