ESSEX, N.Y. — In response to the COVID-19 crisis and an attempt to address the triple threat of crop waste, rising food insecurity, and food industry lay-offs, a rural food hub and a local community organization joined forces to bring sustainable, locally grown food packages to households facing hunger in rural Northern New York State.
In late March, the Hub on the Hill partnered with AdkAction to create an Emergency Food Package (EFP) program. Food for the packages is purchased from local farms, then prepared and delivered using local labor, including furloughed food industry workers.
The program’s design and implementation pre-dated the national USDA “Farmers to Families Food Box Program,” but is conceptually similar with a few key differences. Unlike the national program, the EFP effort sourced food from family farms using sustainable and resilient agriculture practices, which helped to support small farms that were particularly vulnerable due to limited availability of crop insurance and low market access. The organizations that managed the project had the in-depth community knowledge necessary to ensure that sustained, common-sense principles were put into focus as food was procured from farmers and redistributed to families. Food was delivered weekly and package contents required little or no preparation in anticipation of serving homeless populations staying in motels and seniors who may have a hard time cooking for themselves. The organizers partnered with more than a dozen food pantries to ensure the food was sent to the most vulnerable families in a community.
The Hub on the Hill is on pace to deliver 65,000 meals by October 1st; providing fresh farm ingredients and prepared meals weekly to those most in need across four rural counties. The project has also injected more than $120,000 into the local agricultural economy.
In May when the Northeastern United States was grappling with 33% of the country’s COVID-19 cases it received only 4% of the Farmers to Families food relief dollars, according to an article published in Propublica. Only one vendor received a USDA contract in the Northeast Region of New York, a largely rural area encompassing 23 counties, while large contracts were awarded to companies without any clear food distribution experience, the Washington Post reported.
Although overlooked by USDA funding, the Emergency Food Packages project was awarded $225,000 in June to continue. With generous philanthropic support from Adirondack Foundation, Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, and New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth), this project continues to provide healthy, locally grown food to low-income and vulnerable people.
Locals have praised the project, “I’m one of the people that gets a delivery. I can’t eat processed foods. You have literally saved my life during the pandemic. Thank you so much,” said Rhonda La Reina, an EFP recipient.
Grant funding will allow the project to transition to a sustainable model of addressing food access in rural New York. Project organizers plan to make the packages available for purchase through the Hub’s Mobile Market, allowing participants to buy them at a steeply discounted price using SNAP and other food incentives. AdkAction is piloting a new program, “Fair Food Pricing” to further subsidize the cost. At the end of the day, SNAP users will be able to buy local food for up to 65% less than the retail price, while farmers will still receive 100% of their market value for the products.
Delivery routes at the Hub have increased 20% in response to COVID-19, covering an additional 500 miles each week on top of the 2,100 traveled from the Canadian Border to NYC. In response to the project’s success and increased demand on its modest fleet, the Hub on the Hill has launched a crowdfunding campaign to purchase two new refrigerated delivery trucks. Sponsors for these vehicles include Mercedes-Benz and Thermo King Corp. who have significantly discounted prices, as well as a $15,000 pledge from Johnson & Johnson Foundation.
Public welcome to donate: https://www.caringcrowd.org/
–The Hub on the Hill
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