OKEECHOBEE -- The Peanut Butter Challenge, UF/IFAS Extension’s annual jar collection for local food pantries that launched in the Florida Panhandle in 2012, is again spreading statewide this year.
Unopened jars of peanut butter can be donated to Okeechobee County Extension office, located at 458 Hwy 98 North, from Oct. 1 through Nov. 24.
Coordinated by UF/IFAS Extension faculty, staff and volunteers, the competition among counties – for bragging rights only – was conceived as a way to feed hungry families ahead of the holidays in addition to promoting a Florida-grown crop. The peanut, which is produced mainly throughout the northern regions of the state, contributed $119 million to the state economy in 2019, according to the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service.
Peanut butter is an ever-popular item in food pantries for its nutrient density and shelf stability. The project took on new meaning last year as demand for food bank assistance had increased as an economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest numbers from the United States Department of Agriculture shows food insecurity affected roughly one in 10 Floridians in 2020.
In addition to the community donations, the Florida Peanut Producers Association (FPPA) and Florida Peanut Federation (FPF) have partnered with the project for years. These organizations are based in the northwest and northeast peanut-producing regions of the state and will again contribute to the totals distributed to food pantries in those regions.
In the 2020 Peanut Butter Challenge, the first year the event was conducted statewide, participating UF/IFAS Extension county offices received over 27,000 total pounds of peanut butter.
“We are always impressed and touched by the communities’ grassroots support for this program,” said Libbie Johnson, agricultural agent for UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County and co-organizer of the Challenge since its inception. “The peanut industry is a great contributor to our state, but this event also shows how the nutritious food it produces can help our fellow community members who may be struggling.”
Okeechobee County 4-H Extension Agent Paula Daniel said the local goal is to surpass the 500 pound mark, and to "at least" make the top ten counties in the state in collections.
To join or partner with Okeechobee County’s collection this year, call 863-763-6469.