The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Involvement: New York Grown Food for New York Kids
New York Grown Food for New York Kids (NYGFFNYK) is a coalition of nearly 70 organizations and stakeholders working together to improve access to fresh, healthy, local food for students in K-12 schools. It is an advocacy program rooted within Farm to Institution New York State’s (FINYS) mission to strengthen economic security of farmers and health of New Yorkers by empowering institutions to spend at least 25% of their budget on food grown in New York. FINYS is a collaborative initiative led by American Farmland Trust to dramatically expand the volume of food grown on local farms that is served in institutions across New York.
Last year, American Farmland Trust and the NYGFFNYK coalition worked closely with Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to double funding for the Farm to School Grants program while creating a ground-breaking Farm to School incentive program which quadruples the state’s per-meal reimbursement for schools that spend 30 % of their lunch program budget on food from New York farms. In practice, these two programs work closely together to help schools purchase and serve more healthy, New York grown food in school cafeterias while also supporting our state’s farmers.
HVADC’s executive director Todd Erling has been on the ground floor of FINYS, as a member of its Leadership Team, lending knowledge, insight and experience. The team works to bridge the gaps between agriculture and area institutions—recognizing that institutional collective buying power could improve ag-economy as well as feed the people within the institutions’ constituencies, local food, but that it is a deeply complex regional picture with challenging obstacles and demands ranging from limited budgets to delivery schedules.
In the fiscal year 2020 Executive Budget, the governor proposed to continue funding the Farm to School Incentive Program, however, it is not yet clear how much funding was intended for the Farm to School Grants program, vital to helping schools reach the hopeful 30% threshold.
NYGFFNYK members are urging the governor and the legislature to include $10 million in funding for the Farm to School Incentive and $3 million for the Farm to School Grants program in this year’s Enacted State Budget. New York State Policy Goals and Priorities include expanding the amount of food grown by New York farmers that is purchased by K-12 schools and increasing access to New York Grown fresh or minimally processed foods for kids in K-12 schools.
NYGFFNYK’s next “action steps” for the year includes enabling New York Schools to buy more fresh and minimally processed food grown in New York. They seek to appropriate $10 million in the fiscal year 2020 State Budget to continue to fund a 25 cent per meal reimbursement incentive for schools that purchase 30% of their lunch food products from New York State farms. They also plan to advocate to appropriate $1.5 million in the 2020 State Budget to continue investment in our schools’ ability to connect with local farms, and purchase, store and cook healthy, fresh local food.
NYGFFNYK argues that public health and economic benefits of Farm to School are myriad. According to the New York State Department of Health, nearly 1 in 3 children are obese or overweight, a record high. Schools across New York State serve breakfast, lunch and after-school meals annually to 1.7 million children, and studies show that providing more locally-grown, fresh and minimally-processed foods to our students is an important way to improve health outcomes and academic performance while instilling healthy habits. For food-insecure children, school meals may be their only dependable source of nutrition. Farm to School is an effective way to improve access to healthy food for the state’s most vulnerable children and even reduce social costs of obesity. According to the National Farm to School Network, each dollar invested in Farm to School activities stimulates, on average, an additional $1.67 of local economic activity. Opening K-12 schools as a new market channel helps farmers diversify their business and remain economically viable and resilient.
Erling commented that the success of the program could have widespread impact for growers who would benefit from the increase in demand and be able to stabilize their business around it. “Farm to school has the potential to increase market diversification and economic growth opportunities for New York growers and producers and offers possibilities for them to form growers collaboratives or cooperatives to supply the larger scale institutional markets,” said Erling. “Not to mention the desirability of school meals could improve if local foods are incorporated into the menus.”
For more information about NYFGFNYK, please visit https://finys.org/nyfood4nykids.