In an effort to help connect Rochester-Finger Lakes farms with local schools, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to invest in the Foodlink program. Since 1978, Foodlink has grown to serve a 10-county area, distributing more than 12 million pounds of food annually to a network of 450 agencies and programs. The federal investment would help the program obtain new equipment and supplies to expand -- bringing food from local farms to area schools.
"Promoting healthy eating in schools is an important investment in our children," said Senator Gillibrand, the first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. "Foodlink is working to provide more students with fresh, wholesome foods from our local farms. This is a great opportunity to link our farm communities to our local schools."
Tom Ferraro, Executive Director and Founder of Foodlink, said, "On behalf of Foodlink and our partners, I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and her team for their attention to this critical issue, and for her support of our Farm to School Initiative. This grant would help to enable Foodlink's work in rebuilding a healthy, robust local system. Our goal is to maximize the use of our food-related assets (an industrial kitchen, warehouse, freezers coolers and refrigerated trucks) to foster economic development and improve the health of our region, starting with the most important citizens--our children. When consumers spend their food budget on local products, the number of dollars circulated among local businesses double. Beyond the direct economic benefits, connecting schools with local farmers helps cultivate a sense of regional pride and solidarity especially when the ultimate goal is to feed and nourish our children."
Last week, at the request of Senator Gillibrand, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan headlined a funding workshop at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County in Rochester to review the Farm to School Grant Program and offer insight to schools, food producers and other interested parties on the program's application process. Foodlink was among the 40 attendees at this workshop.
Foodlink is applying for funding through the USDA's Farm to School Grant Program. They are working to establish a regional food hub to support farm to school initiatives at schools in upstate New York. By reaching out to local farmers, forming partnerships, and aggregating local produce for value-added processing and distribution, Foodlink would become the critical link between farmers and schools looking to incorporate fresh local product in their food service.
In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Gillibrand wrote "Foodlink already has in place a great deal of food-hub related infrastructure critical to effectively incorporating local foods into schools. In addition to expanding their ability to reach more schools with additional farmers' products, the food hub will also increase access to minimally-processed local produce for other institutions as well as the emergency food system."
Senator Gillibrand's complete letter to Secretary Vilsack:
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
I write in support of Foodlinks, Inc.'s application for funding from the Farm to School Grant Program through the U.S. Department of Agricultures' Food and Nutrition Service. This funding will help establish a regional food hub that will become the critical link between small to medium-sized farmers and schools looking to incorporate fresh local produce in their food service.
As a founding member of Feeding America, Foodlink is part of a national network of 200 food banks and serves a 10 county area in the Genesee Valley and Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York. By reaching out to local farmers, forming partnerships, and aggregating local produce for value-added processing and distribution, Foodlink rescues and redistributes more than 12 million pounds of food annually to a network of 450 agencies and programs.
The requested funding will be used for supporting personnel, equipment, and supplies to expand Foodlink's distribution of local foods to schools. Foodlink already has in place a great deal of food-hub related infrastructure critical to effectively incorporating local foods into schools. In addition to expanding their ability to reach more schools with additional farmers' products, the food hub will also increase access to minimally-processed local produce for other institutions as well as the emergency food system. This funding will support Foodlink's mission to provide hunger relief, eliminate the root causes of hunger, improve health, grow markets for farmers and promote economic development.
I ask that you please give this application your full consideration. If you have any questions, or desire further information, please do not hesitate to contact my staff member Andrew Usyk at (202) 224-4451.