Every year at this time, people around the state go nutty for a good cause. It’s the Peanut Butter Challenge—an annual food drive to fight hunger in Florida. Throughout October, people are encouraged to donate unopened jars of peanut butter to participating UF/IFAS Extension offices throughout the state. Once the jars are collected and tallied, they’re distributed to local food banks and food pantries to feed families in need. Florida A&M University also competes in the challenge, and UF students and faculty can drop off peanut butter at the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field & Fork Pantry on the main campus.
In many counties, Florida peanut farmers match these donations, which can amount to pallet-loads of peanut butter to feed the hungry. Last year, a total of 22 tons of peanut butter was collected, enough to make over 700,000 peanut butter sandwiches.
What’s so special about peanut butter? For one thing, it’s packed with nutrients. A tablespoon serving contains 7 grams of protein and more than 30 essential vitamins and minerals, as well as dietary fiber and healthy fats. This makes it especially helpful to more than 2.25 million Floridians who suffer from food insecurity—meaning that they lack reliable access to enough food for a healthy and active life. If you’ve ever been “starving” and needed to fix a quick PB&J to fill the void, you know how effective peanut butter is at curbing hunger. For people who are really struggling, it can be a life-saver.
Add to that the fact that jars of peanut butter are relatively inexpensive and have a long shelf-life, and it’s easy to see why peanut butter is a staple at food pantries everywhere.
In Washington County, Family and Community Sciences Extension Agent Judy Corbus has been involved with the Peanut Butter Challenge since it started in 2012. Washington County has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state. Like a lot of rural areas in Florida, it has food deserts—areas where sources of fresh, healthy food are out of range for many people. Judy and others collect peanut butter from local churches, 4-H clubs and other donors and distribute them to the Shephard’s Gate Church and the Care and Share Food Pantry in Chipley.
Every week, about 30 to 40 people come to the Care and Share Food Pantry to pick up grocery bags that Sarah Franklin and other volunteers fill with dry milk, canned meats and vegetables, and other staple foods—enough to feed a small family for 3-4 days. Peanut butter is a popular item, especially with children, but it’s too often in short supply. For Sarah, the Peanut Butter Challenge is one of the many miraculous acts of generosity she sees throughout the year. “Just when you think you can’t keep your shelves stocked, people will write you a check or bring eggs their chickens have laid or a pallet of peanut butter will show up at the door,” she says. “Work at a food pantry and you’ll see the compassion that people can have for their neighbors.”
The Peanut Butter Challenge is also a great way to celebrate Florida’s peanut farmers. It might surprise you to learn that Florida is the third biggest peanut producer in the nation. In 2019, more than 580 million pounds of peanuts were produced here, mostly in the Panhandle and the Suwannee Valley. Most of those peanuts are made into peanut butter, and the state’s peanut producers are also one of the leading contributors to the Peanut Butter Challenge.
So this is why it’s good to go nutty for the Peanut Butter Challenge – it brings peanut producers, Extension specialists, volunteers and communities together to help address the problem of hunger in our state.
The Peanut Butter Challenge runs through October 31. To learn more, visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/peanutbutter/.
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert