With the Peanut Butter Challenge, IFAS Extension faculty and civic groups team up to fill Panhandle food pantries – and raise awareness about a North Florida crop
A jumbo African bush elephant weighs 15,000 pounds. An empty school bus: 14,000 pounds. A garbage truck: 19,000 pounds.
And in Florida’s Panhandle, a harvest of donated peanut butter comes in at precisely 20,258 pounds. Enough to spread on 320,000 sandwiches. So many that an unbroken chain of them, laid flat and lined up on Interstate 10, would stretch from the Pensacola exit to the Alabama state line, and back again.
Or enough jars to fill shelves in Panhandle food pantries, say organizers of the UF-coordinated Peanut Butter Challenge.
Since 2012, Extension faculty, volunteers and the Florida Peanut Producers Association have collected jars of peanut butter from residents, organizations and businesses in the UF/IFAS Extension Northwest District. During the challenge, communities stitched across the Panhandle, from Monticello to Pensacola, come together for the once-a-year, neighbors-helping-neighbors massive food drive, IFAS public relations specialist Brad Buck explains.
For six weeks — mid-October until Thanksgiving — UF/IFAS Extension faculty in 16 Panhandle counties, along with faith-based and civic groups, businesses, 4-H clubs and Scouts, stuff overflowing drop boxes with unopened jars of peanut butter. Once the public side of the food drive is finished, the Florida Peanut Producers Association adds to the haul. This year’s bounty was the most generous ever, Buck says, with 10,080 jars donated.
The Peanut Butter Challenge goes with the Panhandle like, well, peanut butter and jelly, says co-organizer Libbie Johnson, an agricultural agent for Escambia County’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
“[It] raises awareness of the important contribution of North Florida’s peanut-growers to the state peanut industry,” she says, “and it helps provide a healthy, locally produced product to Panhandle families that do not have easy access to nutritious food.”
Ken Barton, executive director of the Florida Peanut Producers Association, has high praise for the UF-organized food drive.
“The Peanut Butter Challenge is a wonderful program,” he says. “[It] creates a friendly competition between county Extension offices and everyone involved, while providing local food pantries with much-needed protein in the form of peanut butter.”
How Peanut Butter Stacks Up
- An ounce of peanut butter contains 10 percent of daily recommended dietary fiber.
- Peanut butter is loaded with the powerful antioxidant vitamin E, muscle-friendly potassium and bone-strengthening magnesium.
- Peanut varieties developed at UF/IFAS contain higher levels of a healthier monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid, the same as in olive oil.
- A child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, on average, before graduating high school.