NEW YORK STATE (December 9, 2014) – New York State has been selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to participate in a federal pilot program for the procurement of locally-grown produce in New York State schools. The Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables was included in the 2014 federal Farm Bill and creates a new project to procure unprocessed fruits and vegetables. New York is one of eight states selected to participate in this first-of-its-kind federal initiative, the application for which was submitted by the New York State Office of General Services.
"New York is a nationally recognized leader in the promotion and support of locally grown food, and with this selection we will ensure that students have access to fresh and nutritious locally-grown produce," Governor Cuomo said, "I thank the USDA for partnering with us to showcase the very best of New York’s thriving agricultural industry.”
New York’s pilot will be administered by the State Office of General Services and will begin in Rochester. Next week, OGS will begin talking with farmers, food hubs and schools in the region about the program and how they can participate. Because many of the Rochester organizations have not worked with the USDA before, OGS will help walk them through the process.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the Governor’s newly-created “Buy NY” initiative, which was announced at last week’s Upstate-Downstate Agriculture Summit. “Buy NY” is a joint effort by the State Department of Agriculture & Markets, Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Office of Mental Health, Department of Health, Office of General Services and Cornell Cooperative Extension to leverage existing centralized contracts regarding the purchase of State food products, including produce and dairy products.
The USDA first established a Farm to School program to improve access to local foods in schools in 2010 and, in order to establish realistic goals to increase the availability of local foods in schools, USDA conducted a nationwide Farm to School Census. The first survey was taken during the 2011-2012 school year.
Prior to the creation of the Census, the New York State Department Agriculture and Markets surveyed more than 1,000 school food service directors across the State to gauge their interest in farm-to-school initiatives and to identify barriers and opportunities. As a result, in 2012, New York was selected as one of only five states across the country awarded funding from USDA’s first Farm to School program, immediately enabling the State Department of Agriculture and Markets to implement the best practices and opportunities identified in the survey.
Though still in the early stages, the program has already been successful: In 2013, Benton Berries, a local farm in Penn Yan, NY, made weekly deliveries of tomatoes to Binghamton, Johnson City and Owego-Apalachin school districts. Approximately 3,000 pounds of local tomatoes were served in 16 cafeterias to more than 11,500 students in total that year as a result. Also in 2013, the Binghamton City School District served approximately 12,000 pounds of local apples from Reisinger’s Apple Country, an orchard in Watkins Glen, N.Y, to 6,000 students in 10 school cafeterias.
Provisions in the federal Farm Bill require that the selection of states included in the pilot must be based on a demonstrated commitment to building their own farm-to-school programs, the quantity and variety of local fruits and vegetables producers in the state, and the number of local education organizations serving different population sizes and geographic regions in the state.
Senator Charles E. Schumer said, “Through this innovative federal-state pilot program, New York will provide schools throughout the state with locally grown fruits, vegetables, and produce; it is a win-win for New York farmers and students. Now, New York’s agriculture will not only be farm-to-table but farm-to-school.”
Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said, “This is great news for our schools and our local farmers. New York State is home to a strong agricultural industry that has the potential for even more growth. By connecting schools throughout the state with locally-grown food, we can give our children better access to healthy, nutritious food options, while strengthening New York’s own agricultural industry. I look forward to working across all levels of government and with USDA to continue to build on this important initiative.”
Congressman Chris Gibson said, “Empowering school districts to purchase local fruits and vegetables gives our students fresh and healthy lunch options that help foster a deeper appreciation for agriculture and the importance of farms to our communities. I am proud to have authored this provision of the Farm Bill, and I look forward to working with farmers and educators in the Hudson Valley and Catskills to establish new farm-to-school partnerships through the USDA’s pilot program.”