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New York to connect struggling upstate farmers to regional food banks

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters Monday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters Monday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters Monday.
Credit Dan Clark/New York Now
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters Monday.

New York will launch a program to buy food from struggling upstate farms whose revenue streams were limited last month when restaurants and schools closed because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that the state will purchase that food directly from farmers and direct it to the state’s food banks, which have reported a surge in demand in recent weeks.

“We’re seeing a tremendous demand in food banks, which is predictable in some ways,” Cuomo said. “But the numbers are very, very high, and we need to address it.”

Demand in Westchester County, for example, has more than doubled over regular numbers, Cuomo said. At the same time, farmers have struggled to market their products.

To bridge that gap, New York is starting the Nourish New York Initiative. The program will be led by Kelly Cummings, director of state operations, and a handful of other state officials, like Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball.

"We have people downstate who need food, we have farmers upstate who can’t sell their product. We have to put those two things together. It’s just common sense,” Cuomo said.

Aside from those donations, New York state will also provide $25 million from the Special Public Health Emergency Fund directly to food banks and providers who have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo said.

Companies that process dairy products have also agreed to partner with the state and purchase excess milk from farmers, Cuomo said. Those companies will then use that milk to produce various dairy products, which will be donated to food banks and those in need.

Dairy farmers, in recent weeks, have been forced to literally dump their milk to dispose of excess product that hasn’t been sold in stores. That’s not unheard of, but the COVID-19 crisis has made the situation worse, farmers have said.

“We’re also, immediately, to stop this dumping of milk, going to work with industries in our state who can use our milk and get it to people who need it,” Cuomo said.

Cabot, Chobani, Dairy Farmers of America, and Upstate Niagara Cooperative have each agreed to participate in the initiative.

The New York Farm Bureau said Cuomo’s announcement was welcome news to the countless farmers upstate who are struggling during the COVID-19 lockdown. Farm Bureau President David Fisher, a dairy farmer, said the programs will be a step forward for the industry.

“Today’s announcement will provide an additional pathway to move more nutritious, New York-produced food from our farms to the dinner table, which will benefit everyone involved,” Fisher said.

Farmers in New York already donate to regional food banks, but this will provide an avenue for revenue from those products. Fisher said that farms in New York donated 7 million pounds of food to regional food banks last year.

Copyright 2020 WXXI News