Food Box Program to Provide Locally Grown, Fresh Produce to Underserved Neighborhoods and Connect Farmers to New Markets
FreshConnect Checks Program Grows to More Than $425,000
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced $500,000 in funding for the FreshConnect Food Box Program to bring healthy, fresh food options to underserved areas of the state. The program will provide nutritious and locally grown produce at reduced rates to communities in the Finger Lakes and in New York City, while working to connect farmers with new markets and drive growth in New York’s agricultural industry. In addition, more than $425,000 is available this year for the FreshConnect Checks program to expand the use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets statewide.
“By further expanding access to fresh, affordable foods in underserved communities, we are improving the health of future generations of New Yorkers, as well as local businesses and farms,” Governor Cuomo said. “FreshConnect has been incredibly successful over the past five years, and this initiative will continue to expand opportunity and drive growth in the agricultural industry for years to come.”
Food Box Program
Using a $500,000 grant from the New York State Department Agriculture and Markets’ FreshConnect program, Foodlink in Rochester is creating and implementing a new Food Box program, and GrowNYC in New York City will expand its existing Fresh Food Box initiative. Both organizations will also mentor and train other groups across the state to develop weekly Food Box programs. The Food Box outlets will encourage participants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to use their benefits to buy weekly shares of local fruits and vegetables at below-market prices. The State Department of Agriculture and Markets will provide up to $10,000 for these individual projects.
Additionally, for the first time, Foodlink will offer ‘fresh bundles’ at its Urban Farm Stands and Curbside Markets. These bundles will be filled with seasonal produce sourced from more than 30 growers in the region. Weekly food box shares will cost $12 and contain an approximate retail value of $20-$25 in fresh fruits and vegetables. GrowNYC will expand its operation from 19 to 22 Food Box sites across the five boroughs of New York City. Each site will partner with a community organization that assists with outreach and provides a site for distribution. The organization will offer cooking demonstrations and provide customers with recipes and instructions for storing produce. GrowNYC sources its produce from 36 growers across eight regions of the state.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “More than one million New Yorkers live in areas with limited supermarket access making it difficult to eat healthy, balanced meals. By expanding the availability of affordable, fresh food we are providing residents the opportunity to improve their diets and support their local agricultural economy.”
Mitch Gruber, Director of Programs and Innovation for Foodlink, said, “We understand that it takes strategic, innovative programs to link local agriculture with low-income communities, and we are thrilled to partner with the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets to develop and expand some of these initiatives.”
GrowNYC Executive Director, Marcel Van Ooyen, said, “Fresh Food Box is an innovative program that harnesses the power of group purchasing to allow underserved communities the ability to buy a weekly, curated selection of produce at far below retail price. With generous assistance from the State, we look forward to building on the success of the Fresh Food Box program and bringing fresh produce to even more communities in the coming years.”
Another goal of the Food Box program is to increase the number of FreshConnect Checks redeemed at local farmers’ markets. In addition, for the first time, the program is also operating year-round. Since 2011, more than 240,000 checks have been used by SNAP participants to purchase local farm fresh products at 650 sites across the state.
FreshConnect Checks provides a $2.00 incentive for every $5.00 of SNAP benefit used at participating farmers’ markets. Not only does this support local farmers but it also allows SNAP consumers to increase their buying power by 40 percent. Checks for the summer/fall season will be available starting July 1. Click here for a map of participating markets.
FreshConnect Checks will also be available again this year to veterans, Service members, and their immediate families at county Veterans Affairs offices on a first come–first served basis. The expansion of the program follows a successful pilot program in 2014 and another strong year in 2015.
Eric J. Hesse, Director of the Division of Veterans Affairs, said, “The Division of Veterans’ Affairs has been providing Veterans’ military members and their families with FreshConnect checks for each of the past two years. Each year the program has improved and we look forward to continuing to build on it for years to come. It is a superb effort from Agriculture and Markets and a great way for us to connect with Veterans.”
Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, “Empire State Development is committed to providing access to fresh, locally-sourced fruits and vegetables to New York’s underserved, low-income communities. Working with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, we are opening doors to new market opportunities for local farmers and ensuring access to healthy food options for families in every region of the state.”
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Samuel D. Roberts said, “The FreshConnect program continues to offer new and innovative ways for New Yorkers to have easy access to fresh, locally grown food that they can purchase with their SNAP benefits. Not only do these efforts support the Governor’s goal to prevent hunger, but they will also encourage families to incorporate more healthy fruits and vegetables in their daily diets while supporting our local farmers.”
Governor Cuomo launched the FreshConnect Program in 2011 to create new farmers’ markets and support existing markets that provide outlets for fresh food in high need neighborhoods.
The FreshConnect Program has grown significantly since then and has also funded the creation and implementation of a first-ever Market Manger Certification Program, an online curriculum designed to ensure the quality and performance of farmers’ markets across the state. The 22 unique training modules will help market managers better organize, administer and promote their markets. This program is a cooperative effort among the Farmers Market Federation of New York, SUNY Cobleskill and Cornell Cooperative Extension. To date, 37 market managers have signed up for the online course. To register, go to: http://www.nyfarmersmarket.com/fmmpro.