Good Neighbors

Published online: Jun 10, 2020 Feature Phillip Hayes, ASA
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This article appears in the June/July 2020 issue of Sugar Producer.

Pastor Gary McNealy watched as the truck pulled up and volunteers unloaded crates brimming with green beans fresh from U.S. Sugar fields to help feed his community as the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on food supplies.

“In this crisis and many others, farmers always have our backs, and we are grateful for their hard work growing food for Americans,” said the leader of the Friendship Baptist Church in Harlem, Fla.

All across America, sugar farmers and producers are working quietly in a multitude of ways to support their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic while still working in the fields and factories to produce an essential food ingredient. These extraordinary gestures are an ordinary act for an industry that prides itself on providing a helping hand and investing in sustainable communities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than ever, that commitment has been critical.

The American sugar industry is working in innovative ways to keep our communities strong. The sugar industry has donated both sugar and fresh produce to food pantries, ensuring children have access to nourishing food with the absence of school-based meals, and helping feed the elderly who depend on community-based food programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also required an all-hands-on-deck approach to protect our communities and ensure first responders have the tools they need. Sugar producers have boldly stepped up to the challenge and made critical donations, retooling portions of their production lines or diverting sugar from their normal supply chains to create necessary products to fight COVID-19.

Michigan Sugar Company uses personal protection equipment (PPE) to keep sugar workers safe, and donated a portion of their company supply to local health systems, including hundreds of masks, safety glasses and gloves.

Amalgamated Sugar Company, which processes sugarbeets in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, saw the pressing need for cloth face masks to protect against the COVID-19 virus and moved the industrial sewing machines in its quality lab into face mask production. They typically make tare sample bags but immediately went to work sewing face masks to protect their employees as they continued the essential work of producing food for our nation. All extras would be donated.

Beyond masks, hand sanitizer was among the first items in short supply as the pandemic took its toll on stockpiles across the world. The sugar industry has teamed up with distilleries to help restock this critical item by donating sugar and molasses.

The industry also worked on new and creative ways to help other businesses keep their doors open. In beet country, just as the slicing campaign was ending, Michigan Sugar Company moved to help businesses that were facing a slowdown due to the pandemic. It bought 2,600 gift cards from more than 50 restaurants in the Michigan communities of Bay City, Caro, Croswell, Sebewaing, and the Ohio communities of Fremont, Findlay and Toledo. In total, Michigan Sugar spent $131,000 to give all of its 1,300 employees $100 cards to spend in the community at restaurants that have lost customers.

“We hope this helps ease the pain of this pandemic for those businesses just a little bit,” said Michigan Sugar Company board chairman Adam Herford.

America’s sugar farmers’ and producers’ mission for sustainability fuels their drive to help our nation’s recovery. The industry is focused on providing safe and affordable food and preserving good jobs and the communities that have been built around sugar, even when disaster—or a pandemic—strikes.

At the American Sugar Alliance, we are grateful to have the opportunity to support the humble and hardworking farmers and workers who make up the American sugar industry. Thank you for the essential work that you continue to perform, and the love and compassion you have displayed to your friends and neighbors during this exceptionally difficult time.

After all, if there is anyone who knows resiliency, it’s an American farmer.

As Pastor Gary McNealy in Florida said, “Farmers always have our backs.”