Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced $285,000 in available funding for the third year of the Governor's "FreshConnect" program, which brings fresh food from New York farms to underserved communities throughout the state. The FreshConnect program assists New York farmers by increasing the sale of locally-grown food products while improving nutrition and promoting economic development around the state through projects like youth markets, delivery of products to low-income housing facilities, and new initiatives at traditional farmers' markets.
"The FreshConnect program has been a real success in promoting healthy living while supporting the State's vibrant agricultural industry," Governor Cuomo said. "This year, the program will provide even more avenues for low-income New Yorkers to purchase affordable, healthy, and locally-grown food. We are also continuing to support more marketplaces where local farmers can sell their goods and expand their operations. Through this program, more New Yorkers can eat healthy and New York farmers can sell more products -- that is what FreshConnect is all about."
Launched by the Governor in 2011, the FreshConnect program is designed to foster new farmers' markets and support existing markets that provide fresh produce to high-need areas throughout the state. In some areas, the program serves rural or urban populations that do not have sufficient access to grocery stores; in others, it provides low-income, high-unemployment neighborhoods with healthy, New York-grown produce, as well as local jobs.
In 2011, the program provided viable market locations for over 100 farmers, helped create local jobs for youth in urban areas, and helped increase the sale of locally grown food. In 2012, an expanded FreshConnect program awarded grants through a competitive process to support work at over 50 project sites to better connect New Yorkers with local farm products. The program's flagship 125th Street Fresh Connect Farmers' Market, located at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. New York State Office Building in Harlem, attracted approximately 2,000 people each week that it was open in 2012 and will continue to operate in 2013.
The funding announced today will be awarded through a competitive process. Regional market authorities, public benefit corporations, not-for-profit corporations, and local government entities are eligible to apply, including entities that participated in the FreshConnect program in prior years. The procurement documents and applications are available at the Department of Agriculture and Markets' website: www.agriculture.ny.gov/RFPS.html. Applications are due by April 3, 2013.
The funding will be distributed through initiatives designed to meet the different needs of underserved communities throughout the state and will support innovative methods to provide those communities with better access to New York farm products. These include:
FreshConnect Farmers' Market Grant Program: Funding will support multiple grant projects to improve access of underserved communities to New York farm products at farmers' markets. Under this component, new and existing farmers' markets, municipalities and not-for-profits may apply for up to $10,000. The best ideas on how to improve access to farmers' market produce will be awarded funding.
FreshConnect Youth Market Program: Funding will support multiple youth-staffed market programs, one of the most effective models for reaching nutritionally underserved neighborhoods. Youth markets also help train youth to operate all aspects of a farmers' market in the neighborhood using food purchased from local farmers. Youth will be active participants in all aspects of planning and running the market. Funding will be awarded to organizations that can demonstrate sustainability and growth of youth market programs.
FreshConnect Food Box Program: This program supports pilot projects that will enable underserved, low-income communities to purchase fresh, locally-sourced fruits and vegetables in pre-packed boxes. Food Box customers will have the flexibility to pay for their boxes weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly depending on the pick-up schedule of each project. Food Box customers will have the option to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to pay for their boxes. State funding would cover administrative costs associated with a qualified organization procuring, transporting and distributing the food to low-income New Yorkers.
FreshConnect Checks: This year's FreshConnect program will continue the "FreshConnect Checks" initiative, a rebate incentive that encourages New Yorkers receiving SNAP benefits to use those benefits at farmers' markets. FreshConnect Checks will provide $2 rebate checks for every $5 in SNAP benefits spent at participating markets. In addition to SNAP, FreshConnect-funded projects are encouraged to accept other nutrition incentives, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Fruit & Vegetable Checks, Farmers' Market Nutrition Program checks, and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition checks, to ensure that all citizens have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, regardless of income. In 2011, over $2.5 million in SNAP sales occurred at farmers' markets throughout the state.
Microgrants for Capital Improvement Projects: Microgrants of up to $2,500 each will be available through a Request for Applications process for capital improvement projects at farmers' markets that improve access to farm products by underserved communities. Grants will be dispersed on a first come, first served basis as completed applications are received. The application for the microgrants program will be available at www.agriculture.ny.gov beginning March 20, 2013.
State Agriculture Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine said, "The FreshConnect Farmers' Market program demonstrates Governor Cuomo's overwhelming support for New York's agricultural sector. Whenever we can provide a new venue for farmers to sell their products, it's good for New York agriculture. These markets are helping New Yorkers live healthier lives while enabling our hard working farmers to further enhance their operations."
Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Kenneth Adams said, "The Governor's FreshConnect Farmers' Market program is critical to our efforts to grow New York's agriculture industry and support our local farmers. By expanding this program, we are providing new market opportunities for the state's agricultural products, which will allow the state's economy to grow and create jobs, while ensuring that healthy, fresh foods are available to families in all corners of the state."
Labor Commissioner Peter M. Rivera said, "Summer work experience for youth is an essential aspect of career exploration and career development. The state Labor Department is committed to working with local workforce areas to assist in the matching of youth to the jobs that will be available through the FreshConnect program."
New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D. M.P.H., said, "Promoting increased consumption of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables is a win-win, bringing us one step closer to creating a healthier New York. Through Governor Cuomo's leadership, the FreshConnect program will continue to provide underserved communities with affordable and healthy food while improving nutrition education and building the state's agricultural economy."
Kristin M. Proud, Acting Commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which oversees SNAP in New York State, said, "The FreshConnect program continues to make it easier for recipients of SNAP benefits to have easy access to fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables, allowing them to better provide nutritious meals for their families. These efforts expand on Governor Cuomo's previous success in helping to prevent hunger in New York State."
Dean Norton, President of New York Farm Bureau, said, "We are pleased Governor Cuomo is taking an important step in expanding the Fresh Connect program bridging the gap between New York farms and food deserts in underserved communities who often lack access to healthy, local food. This will expand market opportunities for farmers while at the same time putting nutritious food into the hands of all New Yorkers."
Diane Eggert, Executive Director of the Farmers Market Federation of New York, said, "Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect program provides a great boost to farmers' markets across New York State. Through this new funding, markets will enhance their efforts to help provide healthy foods for New Yorkers. We appreciate the Governor's strong commitment to supporting New York's farmers."
Kathryn J. Boor, Dean of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said, "On behalf of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, I am pleased to learn of this new funding awarded to support Governor Cuomo's FreshConnect Farmer's Market Program. By providing additional resources to this important initiative, the Department of Agriculture and Markets is ensuring that locally-sourced fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are made available to underserved communities across the state, securing greater access to wholesome foodstuffs for all New York families. Studies suggest that children who eat a balanced and nutritious diet have improved academic performance and may reap long-term health benefits. We at Cornell have long recognized the importance of ensuring that New York's children have greater access to healthful and nourishing foods, which is why we support programs like the Cornell Farm to School Program, which aims to increase the amount of locally produced fresh or minimally processed foods served in New York's schools. We congratulate the Department on this important step that will be a win-win for New York's farms and families."