BRECHIN — Inspired by “sky-high” prices for off-season squash in his local grocery store, Don MacDonald began growing gourds at his Brechin cash-cropping farm. He’s since discovered the financial benefits of squash production but with a twist: He donates his squash to food banks in return for charitable tax receipts that are worth much more to him than the crop could ever command on the wholesale grocery market.
MacDonald says a typical bulk 1,300-lb box of squash might fetch $250 at harvest. But he will yield a charitable receipt of $750 if he donates the squash to a local food bank during the winter months when in-store prices are high, at say, $3 per pound. The charitable receipt covers 25 % of current retail value. The receipt is a non-refundable tax credit that lowers his farm’s income tax by an equivalent amount. The food bank turns the squash into soup.
A key trick was MacDonald’s discovery that some Ontario-grown squash varieties — including a type of butternut squash — will keep just fine into the winter months when supermarket prices surge and Mexican imports predominate. He and a partner planted their first serious 5-acre squash plot last season, intending to sell into stores during the winter, but they found the wholesale price still too low to be worthwhile.
It’s also a rigmarole to get product into a grocery store anyway, with contracts and guaranteed supply assurances required, according to MacDonald. “There’s no use talking to the food retailers.”
A light turned on when an acquaintance noted the benefits of the food bank option. In addition to issuing charitable receipts based on a percentage of a product’s retail value, food banks are locally run, aren’t weighed down with corporate gatekeepers and want locally-produced food.
MacDonald also points out that it’s nothing new for farmers to donate products — especially meat — to food banks.
He says he will grow another 5 acres of squash this season, all of it bound for food banks from the outset — possibly 20 boxes’ worth. A specially-configured corn planter will sow the crop.