During the first few weeks of the pandemic, farmers started dumping thousands of gallons of milk, because of COVID-19 outbreaks at processing plants and overall decreased demand.
At the same time food banks started to run dangerously low, as food insecurity grew throughout the state.
State Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball testified in an Assembly hearing on how the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted key weaknesses in the state’s food supply chain.
“The silos were full, the processing plants were full,” Commissioner Ball explained. “It wasn’t that we had a food supply challenge. We had plenty of supply. It was that it was in one place and it needed to be in a different place.”
The Nourish New York Initiative was launched in May and provided food banks with $25 million to help them purchase food from farmers.
Food banks held over 4,000 distribution events which helped serve meals to around 1 million households.
The Department of Agriculture, along with county health departments, also set up mobile testing sites on farms throughout the state.
Commissioner Ball said they recently ramped up testing efforts on farms in Western New York.
“We reached out to all the farms out there, who had a number of employees,” Ball said. “We tested over a thousand farm workers in a two week period.”
Yet now with cases starting to increase once again, lawmakers highlighted the need to keep the Nourish New York Initiative going.
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz says her district in Jackson Heights does not have a permanent food pantry.
“It’s one of the reasons why I had to turn my office into a food pantry and partnered up with a nonprofit,” Assemblywoman Cruz emphasized. “We gave through the time it was open almost 200,000 meals.”
Cruz said as lawmakers head into the next legislative session, they should look at alternative revenue streams for this program and expand it to include nonprofits in districts like hers.
“We should be sending money your way to feed our communities in this particular way,” Cruz explained. “Because it helps the folks in upstate stay alive, thriving and helps their businesses. And it helps the folks in our community be able to eat.”
The State Farm Bureau recently conducted a survey that found 65% of the state’s farms have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.