The HVADC Cultivator
Hudson Valley Food Systems Coalition
Farm to Food Access Survey
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need to get healthy, culturally relevant, and locally grown food in the food access network a topical and urgent issue, and FeedHV has been exploring innovative ways to forge partnerships between food access organizations and local farms. The barriers to meeting this need are three-fold: pantries often don’t have facilities to accommodate fresh food and produce, Hudson Valley farms can’t afford to donate first grade food and produce, and in the past, there has been limited communication and relationship-building between farms and food access organizations.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FeedHV, the Hudson Valley’s community food rescue program, has collaborated with regional organizations and farms to initiate new pathways to quickly get fresh, healthy foods to food pantries and direct aid organizations with food assistance programs. FeedHV, a program of Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC), connects food donors, such as farms and businesses, with food assistance programs on an ad hoc basis, with the goal of reducing food waste and eliminating local hunger.
Operating throughout Dutchess, Columbia, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster counties, FeedHV donor and volunteer efforts provided those in need with regular access to produce and prepared foods, as well as nearly 50,000 pounds of dairy products during the most challenging period of the pandemic. While that initiative was a success, thanks to generous support from Scenic Hudson and volunteers ready to help pickup excess product from farms at a moment’s notice, a sustained and lasting farm to pantry pipeline will require organizations forging relationships local farms—beyond the donation of fresh product.
Now, FeedHV is collaborating with the Hudson Valley Food Systems Coalition to research the feasibility of developing such permanent solutions, matchmaking aid organizations directly with farmers. FeedHV administrator Erica Doyle, a HVADC Program Associate, facilitated a survey of 100 food access organizations, including food pantries, shelters, and food access projects, to assess their willingness and ability to buy food directly from nearby farms.
The Hudson Valley Food Systems Coalition, created in March of 2019, is a forward-thinking initiative, bringing together professionals from across every sector of the Hudson Valley’s food system, to share ideas, identify issues and build solutions. Started by Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, the Coalition developed out of Community Foundations’ Farm Fresh Food Initiative and has created different interest groups to address specific areas of the system.
Survey respondents expressed that the primary hurdle to making this initiative a permanent reality is their limited budget to pay farmers a fair rate for their products. Solutions may include providing second grade food items that don’t make it to store shelves, as well as seeking new funding streams to subsidize the mutually beneficial purchasing.
While there aren’t yet easy answers, big questions about the regional food system drive Coalition members to collaborate on innovative solutions.
HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson serves as the facilitator for the Coalition’s Land and Agriculture Interest Group. In that capacity she has brought Doyle into the mix to help investigate big picture solutions like these.
“Getting farm fresh product into food insecure communities is incredibly important. The pandemic reinvigorated our resolve that the logistical difficulties can be overcome through long term relationships,” Johnson said. “The HV Food Systems Coalition is a place where food industry stake holders and organizations like HVADC, Dutchess Outreach and many others have come together to make real lasting impact.”
The survey Doyle conducted may not have come up with the comprehensive solution for incentivizing food aid organizations to make direct farm purchases yet, but it did clearly show interest and willingness to continue the conversation. That willingness is the way forward to a future where the food pantries of the Hudson Valley are stocked not just with boxes and cans but also fresh produce, meat and dairy, supplied by a holistic community-minded food system.