Western New York farm country and the New York City borough of Queens are hundred of miles — and in some ways worlds — apart.
But with the pandemic creating levels of food insecurity not seen since the Great Recession, state Sen. George Borrello is joining forces with a Queens Democrat on a measure that would establish a permanent program for distributing surplus agricultural products to food banks.
The measure, on which Borrello, R-Chautauqua County, is teaming with Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, would be similar to the Nourish New York model.
Nourish New York was launched in April in response to the surge of people in need at food banks across the state, as well as the hardships facing farmers affected by supply chain disruptions.
“Data indicates that, since the pandemic, approximately one in 10 state residents have become food insecure, with a quarter of those reporting this was a new problem for their households,” Borrello said Tuesday. “The economic recovery for many of these struggling New Yorkers will extend beyond the pandemic, which is why it is critical that we commit now, to permanently establish and expand through legislation, food relief programs like Nourish New York, which benefit both our farmers and those in need.”
With an initial $25 million in state funding, Nourish New York directed the purchase of food and products from Upstate farms and food producers for distribution to food banks across the state. Another $10 million was allocated to the program in late October to sustain the program through the end of the year.
Borrello said one such beneficiary of the program, Chautauqua Rural Ministry, reported that its organization alone served approximately 4,000 meals weekly through the program.
Borrello, the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Cruz announced the bipartisan bill Tuesday in Corona, Queens, after volunteering at a weekly food distribution site sponsored by community organizations La Jornada and the Queens Museum.
The legislation directs the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to oversee a permanent version of Nourish New York. Distribution will be through a network of food banks and other emergency food providers statewide, and the program would also complement related efforts, such as the Farm-to-School program.
“One of my starkest memories from earlier in the pandemic was footage of despondent farmers dumping milk and leaving crops unharvested in their fields, as desperate New Yorkers waited in lines for hours at food pantries,” said Borrello, whose 57th District includes all of Cattaraugus and Allegany counties and has more than 3,000 farms.
“We need to ensure that doesn’t happen again and this bill is the first step forward,” he said.
Cruz said, because of the pandemic, nonprofits and government programs alike have scrambled for resources to ensure the basic needs New Yorkers are met. Her 39th Assembly District in Queens is one of the only districts in NYC that doesn’t have a permanent food pantry.
“As the crisis continues and food insecurity becomes more severe, this bill aims to provide a state pipeline to put food on the table to those who need it most,” she said. “While the districts that Sen. Borrello and I represent are hundreds of miles apart, our constituents share commonality in their dependence on each other for survival.”
David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau, said Nourish New York has been a valuable relief program in the state, connecting farmers and their produce with people in need.
“The New York Farm Bureau supports expanding the concept, making it a permanent program that will assist farmers in moving excess product while also looking to help every New Yorker put food on their table,” Fisher said. “This has been a challenging year, and we thank Sen. Borrello and Assembly Member Cruz for their response as we move forward working together.”