Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the expansion of his FreshConnect program, which brings fresh food from New York farms to underserved communities throughout New York. The expanded program will award competitive grants to support projects across the state that make New York farm products more accessible to low-income residents and areas in need.
"This is a win-win for both consumers and farmers that will create jobs and provide better, fresher food to New Yorkers that need it," Governor Cuomo said. "We must ensure that all of our citizens have access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food, and nothing better fits the bill than the items grown right here in our stated New York’s farmers. Our Fresh Connect initiative has proven to be an excellent way to bridge the gap between farmers and underserved consumers while also creating local jobs. We are expanding the initiative this year by supporting innovative programs that will help us continue to meet the needs of all New Yorkers."
In 2011, Governor Cuomo launched the FreshConnect program to create new farmers' markets and support existing markets that provided fresh produce to high-need areas throughout the state. Through the program, eleven new farmers' markets were created and four existing markets received support. Combined, they provided a viable market location for over 100 farmers, helped create local jobs for youth in urban areas, and facilitated an increase in the sale of locally-grown food.
After the success of last year's program, the initiative is now expanding to include not just farmers' markets, but other projects that connect underserved communities with New York farm products. Potential projects include:
· programs to increase access to farm products at food pantries
· delivery programs that send farm goods to areas in need
· programs for low-income individuals to access food directly from a farm, including through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)
· new farmers' markets that are located in low-income neighborhoods
· satellite markets that purchase produce from an existing market and resell it in an area that cannot support its own market
Grants to support organizations that implement a FreshConnect project will be awarded through a competitive process. Regional market authorities, public benefit corporations, not-for-profit corporations, and local government entities are eligible to apply, including farmers' markets that participated in the FreshConnect program last year. A Request for Proposals is available at the Department of Agriculture's website: www.agriculture.ny.gov/RFPS.html. Applications will be due by April 2, 2012.
This year's FreshConnect program will also continue the "FreshConnect Checks" initiative, a rebate incentive that encourages Food Stamp recipients to use their benefits at farmers' markets. FreshConnect Checks will provide $2 rebate checks for every $5 in food stamps spent at participating markets. In addition to Food Stamps, FreshConnect-funded projects are encouraged to accept other nutrition incentives, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Fruit & Vegetable Checks, Farmers' Market Nutrition Program coupons, and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition coupons, to ensure that all citizens have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, regardless of income. In 2011, over $2 million in Food Stamp sales occurred at farmers' markets throughout the state.
The FreshConnect program has been designed to meet the needs of local communities throughout the state. In some places, the program serves rural or urban populations that do not have sufficient access to grocery stores; in others, it provides low-income, high-unemployment neighborhoods with healthy, New York-grown produce, as well as local jobs. The program's flagship 125th Street Fresh Connect Farmers’ Market, located at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. New York State Office Building in Harlem, attracted approximately 2,000 people each week it operated in 2011. A market manager to operate this market for the 2012 season is now being sought through the Department of Agriculture's website: www.agriculture.ny.gov/RFPS.html.
New York State Agriculture Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine said, "New York is a leading producer of a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including apples, cherries, cabbage, sweet corn, green beans, onions, and more. I commend the Governor's vision and leadership in helping New Yorkers gain greater access to our farm fresh products through the FreshConnect program."
New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah said, "The health benefits associated with increased access to fresh food are clear. Through Governor Cuomo's leadership, we are expanding the FreshConnect program so that we can continue to provide underserved New Yorkers with affordable and healthy food, support our state's growing agricultural industry, and help create jobs in communities throughout New York."
Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Kenneth Adams said, “Improving our state's business climate means also improving the quality of life and well-being of all New Yorkers. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, ESD is proud to work with our partners in state government and the private sector to help support our local farmers and ensure that healthy, fresh foods are available in every corner of the state.”
Senator Patty Ritchie, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, "Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect program was a great success last year. It supported New York's farmers while performing a valuable service for underserved areas of our state. I am pleased that this year, the program will be even bigger and better. Through the FreshConnect program, we can continue to foster economic development around local farms while helping to provide all New Yorkers with access to the wonderful products grown in our state."
Assemblyman William Magee, Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, said, "Last year, Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect initiative helped to provide new venues for our state's farmers, allowing them to develop their businesses and broaden the availability of their top-quality products. This year, the competitive grants process of the expanded FreshConnect will support even more innovative programs to offer greater opportunities for New York farmers. I am proud to support this initiative, which is a win for farmers and a win for communities in need."
President of the New York Farm Bureau Dean Norton said, "Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect program represents an investment in New York's agriculture industry. Connecting consumers with New York farmers creates a stronger business climate on both a local and statewide level and helps to extend the reach of New York's excellent products to communities in need. I am excited that our farmers will continue to prosper thanks to the expansion of this innovative program."
Executive Director of the Farmers Market Federation of New York Diane Eggert said, "Farmers' markets continue to be one of the best ways for consumers to find locally-grown healthy fruits and vegetables. Our markets were given a tremendous boost last year with Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect program. Through this program, markets have been able to grow throughout our state, giving farmers the ability to connect with more New Yorkers, regardless of where they live or their income. Our wireless EBT program at the markets has also been very effective in helping more people obtain fresh produce. The Governor has a true commitment to supporting New York's farmers and we are pleased that he is once again offering this successful program."
Kathryn J. Boor, PhD, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, said, "New York's farmers and consumers alike have benefitted from Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect program. The expanded program will now help even more New Yorkers, as it will offer new methods to provide fresh and nutritious produce to communities in need."
FreshConnect is administered through a partnership between the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Empire State Development, and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
Almost 1.5 million New Yorkers live in areas with limited supermarket access. Expanding access to fresh food in underserved communities has been shown to both improve nutrition and lower costs related to obesity and diet-related disease, while also fostering community and economic development.