By Pete Zamplas
Mills River – President Donald J. Trump called farmers “incredible” and “humanitarians” for sending surplus food to the needy through a federally-funded program he is now expanding, as he spoke Monday to an enthusiastic crowd at Flavor 1st Growers and Packers in Mills River.
The president announced another $1 billion will go to extend the federal Farmers to Families Food Boxes program, up to $4 billion.
Trump spotlit Flavor 1st as a supreme example of Farmers to Families; his aides said the local farm is the only program site he has visited thus far.
“We’re tremendously grateful for the 185 employees at this facility, who have packed roughly 7,000 boxes a week,” Trump said. He noted there are 200 food box pick up locations across the state.
Trump said the food packaging and delivery is part of the nation’s “greatest industrial mobilization” since World War II, to “take on this incredible scourge, this terrible (COVID-19) plague” and its economic devastation.
Farmers to Families is two-pronged. Federal aid helps farmers and food distributors who lost clients in the pandemic-laced economic downturn, and in turn families in need receive surplus farm food from food banks. Baptists on Mission makes deliveries from Cary to Avery County.
“As a grower myself, I can’t believe how much it to means to me for my fresh produce to actually go to people that need it in this pandemic,” Kirby Johnson said. He co-owns Flavor 1st and oversees its fields on 500 acres. He said Flavor 1st got going in Farmers to Families nine days after he heard about it and has lasted three months.
Trump said more than 100 million meals have gone to people in need. His daughter and trusted advisor told the crowd that about 70 million food boxes have been delivered, said Ivanka Trump. Her father called her a “big supporter” of Farmers to Families, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Also speaking at Flavor 1st were US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, and Richard Brunson who heads the Baptist State Convention of N.C.
Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the former local congressman, accompanied the president. He greeted some in the crowd of about 250 invited guests. This was Donald Trump’s 12th visit to the state, as president.
Salvaging Jobs, Food
Farmers to Families make use of food that might have gone to waste, due to closings then restrictions on restaurants limiting the food they buy, Trump said. Ivanka Trump similarly said, “We’re saving countless jobs. Farmers’ supply chains were severed.”
Perdue noted, “Businesses are shut down. People have lost their jobs. Farmers are suffering, too.” He emphasized how farmers and other workers are not “forgotten.”
Co-owner Brian Rose calls the aid a “huge help” for Flavor 1st’s 350 total workers, and for “our farming families — many of which would not be in business today” without it.
Mills River Mayor Pro-tem Brian Caskey, a Democrat helping represent his town at the event, told The Tribune “farmers are very important to Mills River,” and such programs help.
Secretary Perdue called farmers’ efforts an “outpouring of compassion.” Brunson termed each food package as a “box of hope and love.” He called farmers “among our most essential workers,” for supplying food.
Kirby Johnson hosted Trump and his entourage in a ten-minute tour. They saw packing machinery and boxes and conveyor belts, and learned about packaging and loading of boxes into refrigerated trucks. They met some Flavor 1st growers and their families.
Trump credited about $34 billion in federal aid to farmers as getting largely funded from collecting higher tariffs on Chinese imports into the U.S.
The president said so far $3 trillion has gone to help people beset in various ways by the pandemic. He said that includes loans to $5 million businesses, to keep them afloat.
In a lighthearted moment, Trump commented of Madison Cawthorn, the young Hendersonville native who is running against Democrat Moe Davis for the 11th Congressional seat. “If I looked like him, I would have been president 20 years ago.” He pledged to Cawthorn, 25, “You’re going to be a star of the party.”
Trump spoke in Charlotte Monday after 300 GOP delegates there nominated him, in the opening day of the RNC’s virtual convention. His campaign slogan for 2020 will become “Fighting for You,” succeeding “Make America Great Again.”
He flew by helicopter from Charlotte to Asheville Regional Airport, where he addressed around 1,000 supporters. People lined the route to Flavor 1st, cheering the motorcade. A mere handful of protestors were clustered, by Ingles.
Trump also spoke at Flavor 1st about the pandemic, beyond food relief. He ripped N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper for sustaining much of a lockdown.
“Shutdowns cause problems, too” with job loss triggering depression and even suicide, Trump reasoned. “We have to get your state open. We have to get numerous states open, that are run by Democrats.” He sarcastically forecast “I really believe on Nov. 4 (after the election), they’re all going to be open” — as “a miracle.”
On the medical front, Trump announced on Sunday convalescent plasma now has FDA approval for emergency use in blood transfusions to COIVD-19-infected patients. This is after promising results “reducing mortality” from the virus, in tests of 35,000 people, Trump said at Flavor 1st. He said three vaccines are developing at “warp speed.”
Trump called 2020 the “most important election this country has ever had.” Perdue is confident people will vote mostly for “policies, and people who get it done — like Donald Trump. He’s our Decider-in-Chief.”