Article originally published in the Valley Table.
“The pandemic demolished the New York restaurant industry,” explains John Ng, president of Hudson Valley Fisheries (HVF). When COVID shutdowns took effect in March 2020, HVF lost 60% of its sales, as did many farms and suppliers who could no longer expect bulk orders from their restaurant clients. Yet at the same time, food-insecure families couldn’t afford essential foods.
Recognizing that these two communities were hit hard, Governor Andrew Cuomo launched the Nourish New York Initiative with $35 million in initial funding in May 2020. The program seeks to connect agribusinesses with unsold products to New York’s network of food banks, creating a market for farmers to sell their goods and providing food to families in need.
“Within a week, we were working with the NYS Department of Health, developing contracts for the food banks and their emergency food providers and food pantries,” says State Commissioner of Agriculture Richard A. Ball.
Across New York, over 4,150 farms and 1.3 million households have benefited from Nourish NY, according to the Department of Agriculture and Markets. In the Valley alone, more than 70 farms and agribusinesses have supplied products to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY (RFBNNY) through the program.
With funds from the state, RFBNNY purchases products like dairy, eggs, produce, meat, fish, and juice from Valley-area suppliers. Since Nourish NY’s establishment, the food bank has seen a 41% increase in distribution, says Joanne Dwyer, director of food industry relations at RFBNNY.
For local farmers and suppliers, the chance to get their feet back on the ground has been appreciated. “We welcome opportunities to give back to the communities we serve and explore ways to support nonprofit organizations,” says Ng.
In January, Governor Cuomo granted an additional $25 million to Nourish NY. However, RFBNNY and Hudson Valley farms would like to see a permanence of this program — food insecurity won’t vanish post-pandemic, after all.
“We hope Nourish NY will continue to operate as a fundamental component of the state’s initiatives to alleviate hunger and prevent food waste,” says Ng. “Food insecurity is growing and programs like Nourish NY are essential in truly nourishing its citizens.”