Farms and food banks have benefited from a state initiative designed to help both entities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Food Bank of Central New York purchased 428,167 pounds of surplus food from New York farms since early May, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. The food included 312,274 pounds of dairy products, such as butter, cheese and milk, and 77,447 pounds of apples, onions, potatoes and other produce.
The food purchases followed the launch of the Nourish NY program. The program was a response to reports that farms dumped milk and produce because, during the COVID-19 statewide shutdown, they lacked markets for their products.
Along with the idea of linking farms and food banks, the state provided $25 million to help food banks purchase the surplus food. Central New York received $2.2 million from the state. The funding helped the Food Bank of Central New York purchase food from farms and then distribute it to families across the region.
"Funding through Nourish New York helps us provide nutritious food from upstate growers and producers to children, families and seniors struggling with hunger," said Karen Belcher, interim executive director at Food Bank of Central New York.
The dairy products and produce were purchased from several farms, including Hudsons' Dairy in Oswego County. After purchasing the food from farms, it was distributed at different sites in central New York, including Cayuga County. There was a mobile food pantry in Cato on Tuesday. There have been food giveaways in 10 other counties, including Onondaga and Oswego.
The Food Bank of Central New York also partnered with Upstate Farms to offer a voucher program. The vouchers are given to people who can redeem them at stores for milk.
In the agency's 11 counties, 16,000 vouchers have been distributed.
"The vouchers are specifically helpful, as they enable even those food banks that may not have ample refrigeration on site to provide nutrient-rich milk to families in need," said Larry Webster, CEO of Upstate Niagara Cooperative.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball believes the Nourish NY program has been successful. His department and the state Department of Health oversee the initiative.
Ball said the program connected farms with consumers during a difficult period for New Yorkers.
"Our partnership with Food Bank of Central New York has been crucial in making the link that has helped keep these important businesses going while keeping families fed," he added.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.