State and local officials celebrate $4.6 million public health and workforce development project
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that construction has begun on Foodlink’s new $4.6 million Community Kitchen. The 28,000-square-foot space, soon to be filled with state-of-the-art equipment, will enable Foodlink, a non-profit organization in Rochester, to significantly expand its programs and services geared toward ending hunger in the region. The food hub’s new community kitchen will work to build community health and nutrition, and reduce poverty through targeted job creation in the culinary industry.
“Rochester’s new food hub will leverage the unique resources of the region to increase access to fresh, healthy food and grow the state’s economy,” Governor Cuomo said. “This initiative will drive growth in the agricultural industry, create jobs and reduce poverty for decades to come.”
"Foodlink has been at the center of the battle against hunger in the Finger Lakes region for more than 30 years, and today we are honored to help a great institution extend its reach and impact even further,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “With our investment and the expansion of the Foodlink kitchen, we also make this a hub of regional agricultural activity and job development, and the result will be a healthier community.”
Julia Tedesco, Executive Director of FoodLink, said, “This is a monumental day in Foodlink’s history. Our kitchen is a vital community asset and one that our founder, Tom Ferraro, had always envisioned expanding and moving to our operational headquarters. Having all of our dedicated employees finally working under one roof will strengthen our commitment to Foodlink’s vision of a healthy, hunger-free community. The new facility will enable Foodlink to increase the number of healthy meals it prepares and serves daily to children in the City of Rochester, while making significant investments in the regional economy and fostering workforce development.”
Numerous Foodlink staffers and board members joined Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Tedesco for the celebration, which also welcomed local, state and federal officials and major stakeholders to the new facility, located at 1999 Mt. Read Boulevard in Rochester. The project will retain Foodlink’s 77 employees while creating 34 new jobs over a five year period. Its Culinary Career Training program will also train an additional 20 to 30 individuals by 2019.
The project was awarded a $1 million grant from Empire State Development through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council; $650,000 from Greater Rochester Health Foundation; $500,000 from the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation; and $200,000 from the ESL Charitable Foundation.
The Foodlink Community Kitchen project aligns with the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and Upstate Revitalization Initiative’s strategic growth plans, as well as the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. Access to food plays a central role in community development, poverty reduction and economic mobility for the region.
Foodlink aims to complete construction on the facility by Fall 2016 and have it up and running for the school year, when the kitchen is busiest. Several area charter schools, after-school programs and extended-day sites partner with Foodlink to provide healthy meals for thousands of Rochester’s low-income children. When school lets out, the kitchen serves up food for Summer Meals sites and other local camps and programs. Over time, Foodlink expects to triple its capacity, which equates to more local children eating healthy meals. Numerous studies have recognized a proven link between better nutrition and improved educational performance.
Aside from expanding production and gaining efficiencies by operating out of a single location, Foodlink will expand two other initiatives: Local Value-Added Processing and Culinary Workforce Training. A concerted effort has been made in recent years to purchase apples from local growers and pre-slice them to make them more appealing to children. The technique, known as Value-Added Processing, has been hampered by limited processing space and the prohibitive cost of equipment. In the new kitchen, apples will be sliced at a rate of 24 boxes per hour, rather than two, and other types of produce will be brought into the fold.
Foodlink will also use its new space to develop a one-of-a-kind work experience program. Wegmans has lent its expertise to help with a kitchen design that will take into account work flow, food safety, training capacity and scalability for growth. The company also will help to develop the kitchen’s culinary training program.
Governor Cuomo also announced last week $500,000 in funding from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ FreshConnect program that will help organizations, including Foodlink in Rochester, to create and implement a new Food Box program. The program will provide nutritious and locally grown produce at reduced rates to communities in the Finger Lakes, while working to connect farmers with new markets and drive growth in New York’s agricultural industry.
Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, “Foodlink’s newest project offers the opportunity to create a career in the agriculture and culinary industries, where there is a proven demand in the Finger Lakes region and where ESD is investing critical state funds to leverage this key sector.”
Danny Wegman, Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair and Wegman Food Markets CEO, said, “The way out of poverty is a job. There are culinary jobs available in our community, but our community also needs a workforce trained to fill those jobs. This program will go a long way to close that gap.”
John Urban, president and CEO, Greater Rochester Health Foundation, said, “Ensuring that all of Rochester’s children have access to enough nutritious meals is vital to the overall health of our community. Because this offered us a unique opportunity to impact the health status and quality of life of children in Rochester, we decided to award Foodlink’s Community Kitchen an atypically large grant outside our standard grant cycles.”
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle said, “This critical investment will enable Foodlink to further expand on their mission by broadening access to our region's fresh food system and equipping future employees with the skills needed to pursue a successful career in agricultural and culinary services. I thank Governor Cuomo and my colleagues on the Regional Council, the Wegman Family, ESL and the Greater Rochester Health Foundation for their extraordinary commitment to this project and uplifting those in our community most in need.”
Senator Joe Robach said, “Foodlink is an invaluable asset to the Rochester community and our region. This $1 million investment from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council will be put to good use, helping Foodlink expand its programs and services and working towards the ultimate goal of ending hunger. I am certain that Tom Ferraro is smiling down on all of us today.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said, “We’re grateful to Foodlink for all that they do for this community. Foodlink prepares approximately 4,000 nutritious meals for the children of Rochester each day. Once this new facility is completed, they will be able to triple their capacity to over 12,000 meals per day. Studies show a clear link between nutrition and educational outcomes, making Foodlink an important partner in our efforts to create more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for the citizens of Rochester.”
Accelerating Finger Lakes Forward
This announcement complements “Finger Lakes Forward,” the region’s comprehensive blueprint to generate robust economic growth and community development. The State has already invested more than $3.4 billion in the region since 2012 to lay the groundwork for the plan – investing in key industries including photonics, agriculture and food production, and advanced manufacturing. Today, unemployment is down to the lowest levels since before the Great Recession; personal and corporate income taxes are down; and businesses are choosing places like Rochester, Batavia and Canandaigua as a destination to grow and invest in.
Now, the region is accelerating Finger Lakes Forward with a $500 million State investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. The State’s $500 million investment will incentivize private business to invest well over $2.5 billion – and the region’s plan, as submitted, projects up to 8,200 new jobs. More information is available here.
Foodlink is a regional food hub and the Feeding America food bank serving Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates counties. Our operations target the root causes of hunger by distributing food to a network of human service agencies, serving meals through our commercial kitchen, and offering more than 30 food-related programs. In 2015, Foodlink distributed nearly 19 million pounds of food – including 4.6 million pounds of produce – offered more than 200 nutrition education courses, and created new access points for healthy foods in underserved communities. Our innovative approach directly addresses health disparities related to food insecurity. Learn more about our mission to end hunger and to leverage the power of food to build a healthier community at www.foodlinkny.org.