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Additional funds for ‘Nourish New York’ program a big help for farmers, food banks

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to allocate an additional 25-million dollars towards a program that has helped reduce food waste since the COVID pandemic started last spring. The food banks and farmers it would benefit say it’s very much needed.The ‘Nourish New York’ program helps farmers and food banks manage excess product that would go unused while restaurants and schools are closed or limited in their operation due to COVID. So far, it's proven to be a massive boost for communities across the state.

From spring of last year through December 1st, the program resulted in $26.4 million in purchases equivalent to 17-million pounds of food. FeedMore Western New York Communications Director Catherine Schick said the additional aid allowed her agency, alone, to acquire 1.3 million pounds of food for distribution.

“In 2020, FeedMore WNY provided enough food for about 16 million meals throughout Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara County. And just to give you perspective, that's about 4 million meals more than what we were able to distribute in 2019,” she said.

Schick said they don’t know the exact amount of money they will receive this time around. Last year, FeedMore WNY received $1.8 million as an organization. After an extension of the program in November, they were awarded nearly $732,000 more.

“According to Feeding America, which is a nationwide network of food banks of which FeedMore WNY is a member of, our food insecurity rate actually is projected to have increased by 41% due to the pandemic," Schick said. "So we know that there is an incredible increased need in terms of food and security in our community.” 

New York Farm Bureau Director of Communications Steve Ammerman agrees additional aid would be critical, and said the program is something lawmakers should consider continuing after the pandemic ends.

“We could certainly see this going forward regardless because there's always going to be people in need," Ammerman said. "And in addition, this money goes into the hands of our local farmers, our local communities, it's money that will be turned back into the regional economy. So there are benefits beyond just at the farm gate.”

As of this December, more than 4,000 farms benefited from the initiative. Ammerman said the program provided a needed market and outlet for farms that had nowhere else to sell their food.

"When we saw a lot of markets that disrupted processors that could handle excess product, because of the loss of restaurants and schools and what have you, because of the pandemic, a lot of excess food literally was left to rot or had to be disposed of," Ammerman said. "And this program helped move millions of pounds of food that otherwise would have gone to waste and got it onto the table to people in need.”

It turns out some lawmakers in Albany are considering making the program permanent. 

State Senator George Borello released this statement:

“I applaud Governor Cuomo’s latest $25 million commitment to the Nourish NY program, a compassionate initiative that has been a lifeline for New York farmers and families left struggling because of the pandemic. Both groups were casualties of our sudden economic shutdown, a plight that was painfully illustrated by endless lines at food pantries and images of farmers dumping milk and abandoning crops as their markets disappeared virtually overnight."

“In establishing a new channel for moving fresh, nutritious New York farm products to those in need, our state has not only responded to the crisis of the moment, but revealed an ideal solution for addressing ongoing challenges with respect to food insecurity and our agricultural economy. That is why Assembly Member Cruz and I are advancing a measure that would make a farm to food bank program permanent. Such an action would provide stability for our farmers and food banks, as well as the millions of New Yorkers they support. Today’s funding announcement has added momentum to that goal, which we will continue to push for as the legislative session moves forward.”

The proposal to re-up funding for Nourish New York comes as part of the Governor’s 2021 agenda and faces approval in state legislature budget hearings.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.