The recently launched program provides $25 million for food banks across the state to buy food from New York farms, including dairy products and produce. The initiative tackles two problems at once: making sure that food doesn't get wasted and that New Yorkers in need don't go hungry. So far, 87,588 gallons of milk and over 500,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits have been sent to food banks.
A new state program pairing food banks and farmers is helping to grow a lifeline for many state farms.
The program was established roughly two weeks ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo after he heard that farmers in the state were facing issues, including the dumping of milk. The program provides $25 million to state food banks to purchase food and products from New York farms to give to communities in need. Nourish NY is slated to run for six months.
“Inadvertently, I think this will save dairy farms,” said Myron Thurston, Agriculture Economic Development and marketing specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Madison County.
Thurston pointed towards Queensboro Farm Products — a smaller dairy processor based in Canastota — to explain his point.
He said Queensboro recently was forced to drop a few dairy farmers due to market conditions. There was a chance Queensboro would have to drop more farms if not for Nourish NY, Thurston said.
“This is an opportunity for us all together to help farms,” he said.
NOURISH NY EXPLAINED
The program began April 27, and food banks received funding about a week later. Food banks have used the money to purchase products from Chobani, HP Hood, AgriMark and upstate farms, state officials said.
“The initiative has helped make the direct connection between New York farmers who have lost markets as a result of school and restaurant closures, and New York’s food banks who have been seeing an unprecedented surge in demand in families who need food assistance during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Jola Szubielski, director of public information of the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets. Szubielski said nearly $1 million has been used so far to purchase product from the state’s farmers and processors. This includes 1.4 million pounds of milk — both fluid and finished products — and nearly 500,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables. The food is given out during numerous drive-thru events held throughout the state by food banks. More than 92 distributions so far have helped an estimated 25,800 individuals, state officials said. The Nourish NY events kicked off May 8 with Island Harvest on Long Island, the state agriculture department said. The department said the event helped more than 3,000 families impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. More locally, the Food Bank of Central New York held an event May 12 at the state fairgrounds in Syracuse. It partners with 282 regional emergency food programs in Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties, according to the organization’s website. The food bank has seen more than a 20% increase in demand for emergency food in its 11-county service area, the state agricultural department said, distributing 1.8 million pounds of food in March and 2 million pounds in April. “Nourish New York will be a lifeline for our families and our farmers who have been struggling with changes brought on by COVID-19,” said New York State Agricultural Commissioner Richard A. Ball in a statement.
‘A TON OF POSITIVES’
Luke George — sales and operations manager for Upstate New York Growers and Packers Cooperative, a farmer-owned statewide marketing coop in the Mohawk Valley — said the program is appreciated by area growers. George said last year was rough and he has had farmers calling and asking what they should plant. The Nourish NY program is now allowing farmers to plant with confidence he said, knowing there is a market for the product. They also feel they are doing something good through the program and it is not a handout, George said. “A ton of positives come out of it,” George said of the program. It is a little early to say how much milk the program is saving from dumping, said Andrew M. Novakovic, a professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. Novakovic is a leading authority on milk dumping and the dairy industry. He said there is no fresh data on how much milk is being dumped. He expects the April data to come out in the near future. However, he sees things starting to turn around. “It is anticipated that April will be the high month this spring and that dumping has already begun to wane,” Novakovic said. LOCAL IMPACT
Nourish NY has been well received locally. Terri DiNitto of DiNitto Farms in Marcy said the program is helping product move faster because the money is in the hands of the food banks. DiNitto Farms is part of the Dairy Farms of America co-op, which has seen product go down around 15 to 20 percent. She said Nourish NY could potentially help open other markets for dairy farmers. “Another added benefit could be that the program is bringing new consumers back to the dairy category once they experience the nutritional value of dairy at a time when they may not have been able to get it,” she said. Dairy farmers are not the only ones worried about seeing profits and products dry up. Vegetable farmers currently are finalizing plans to plant seeds for harvest in the fall. Mike Candella — owner and operator of Candella’s Farm Market in Marcy — believes Nourish NY will help keep farmers going. “It’s great,” he said. “Rather than dumping this stuff, at least it’s helping people and going somewhere.”