Farmers Market-Based, FreshConnect Food Program to Expand

We all know about the benefits that eating locally grown and sustainable food can have on our body, health and overall well-being. One of the best ways to supplement fresh fruit, vegetables and grains into our everyday lifestyle is the accessibility of farmers markets. There, we are able to purchase all types of food, ranging from fresh tomatoes picked straight from the vine to warm baked pastries and homemade breads, all from local farmers throughout the state, resulting in a large, joint community effort of choosing locally grown food.

Last year, Governor Andrew A. Cuomo introduced the FreshConnect program, the first step in "Farm NewYork," a beginning initiative to continually invest in the states agricultural industry. The biggest components of FreshConnect were to launch new farmers markets, expand others, increase the sales of locally grown food in communities, and provide local jobs while simultaneously bringing fresh food to underserved communities. "The FreshConnect Program empowers all New Yorkers to choose healthy, affordable, locally-grown food. This process is a win-win for farmers and consumers," Cuomo said.

The steam gained in the past year from the success of FreshConnect has recently prompted Cuomo to start expansions on the project. The new initiative will not just include farmers markets but additional projects that will provide underserved communities with the fresh and local food that should, in reality, always be available. Possible options include farm products at food pantries, delivery programs, satellite markets and new farmers markets in situated low-income neighborhoods.

In a number of areas, new markets will serve communities that may not have proper access to grocery stores and in others, markets will provide low-income, high-unemployment neighborhoods with job opportunities for local youth. Regardless, delivering fresh farm products to New Yorkers alike will not only foster community development, but economic development as well.

Throughout the program last year, eleven new farmers markets were created in neighborhoods of Harlem, Queens and Manhattan and four existing markets received support. In total, all the markets provided viable options for over 100 farmers, which in turn created local jobs while increasing the total, overall sales of locally-grown food. Additionally, the program this year will feature "FreshConnect Checks," a rebate option that encourages those using Food Stamps to use those benefits at local markets. FreshConnect Checks will provide $2 rebate checks for every $5 in food stamps spent at the farmer's stations.

Senator Patty Ritchie, the Chair of Senate's Agriculture Committee called the program, "successful," last year but is most looking forward to the expansion. "I am pleased that this year, the program will be even bigger and better. Through the FreshConnect program, we can continue to foster economic development around local farms while helping to provide all New Yorkers with access to the wonderful products grown in our state," she said.

If the proven success of the last year is telling in any way, the amount of locally-grown produce will be skyrocketing for sure, alongside shining of the spotlight on those local farmers who make it all possible.

Photo: NatalieMaynor

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