CAPITAL REGION — The Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York will buy excess produce and dairy from New York farmers with $4.3 million in state money from the “Nourish New York” program that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week.
The Food Bank serves 23 upstate counties from the North Country to the Hudson Valley, shipping truckloads of donated food to pantries and soup kitchens from their Latham warehouse. The coronavirus has spurred a food dilemma: The need for fresh produce has skyrocketed, especially for low-income families, but the farmers who grow and raise that food are struggling to make ends meet.
“On a regular basis we purchase from NY farmers, but this is money that will be above and beyond,” said Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank. “So we will be able to buy things that we typically wouldn’t be able to buy in such large quantities and give them away in special distributions.”
Much of the roughly $2.8 million earmarked for direct farm purchases will go toward New York’s hurting dairy industry, where many farmers have been dumping millions of pounds of milk after revenue from schools, institutions and restaurants plunged.
The Food Bank typically gets products like frozen meat and canned goods donated from Walmart, Hannaford and other companies. Now they’ll be able to directly buy New York milk, cheddar cheese, sour cream and more to pack into boxes for the hungry.
“We’re going to probably be renting off-site cooler space just to handle the additional product,” said Quandt.
They’ve also had to hire more warehouse staff to keep up with the increased requests to ship out food to agencies throughout the region. “As communities get a better handle on what’s going on in their area, and realize there’s a need that’s not being met, they’re contacting us to see if we can help,” said Quandt.
The Nourish NY program mandates that $1.1 million of the total aid be distributed to nine local food distribution agencies in the Capital Region and Hudson Valley areas. One of those recipients will be Capital Roots, a Troy-based organization that’s still selling produce to inner-city residents out of their signature “Veggie Mobile” truck.
“Our programs are based on the need for retail outlets for low-income populations who are challenged with getting to supermarkets, and were before all this began,” said Amy Klein, CEO of Capital Roots. “And now they are even more challenged because of transportation issues, and because of safety and health.”
Capital Roots is set to receive from $157,872 in funds from the Regional Food Bank’s aid package. Klein said that can help feed tens of thousands through programs like “Taste and Take.”
Usually, staff prepare a simple meal with fresh ingredients for Veggie Mobile visitors to sample. If they like it, they can take home the recipe and ingredients. Because of social distancing concerns, Capital Roots can’t let people “taste,” but they can still let them “take.”
“What’s great about it is we work with about 100 farmers around the region to buy products from them on a year-round basis,” said Klein. “This will enable us to buy even more products from farmers that are really suffering right now.”
The Nourish NY program was rolled out only last weekend, so both the Regional Food Bank and their sub-recipients are just starting to figure out how they’ll use the money.
“There’s a lot we have to do yet. In our case we’ll keep $3.2 million – it’s not like that happens every day,” said Quandt. “So we have to take a little bit of time and really think this through and do this the right way, instead of just jumping on it and reacting and not doing it the right way.”