LEWIS – Essex County Cornell Cooperative Extension just got $385,000 to utilize and promote local food sources.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is part of the Local Food Promotion Program, and will be used to expand Cooperative Extension’s existing Farm to School program into a Farm to Institution program.
The agency will be working with schools, hospitals, senior centers, retirement homes, correctional facilities, colleges and early child care centers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how important access to locally-sourced food is for Adirondack communities,” Farm to Institution Educator Meghan Dohman said by email.
“I am excited to share that CCE Essex has earned a very competitive and substantial federal grant from the United States Department of Agriculture as part of the Local Food Promotion Program.”
She said they plan to strengthen the regional food system over the next three years.
“This funding opportunity is significantly increasing our capacity to create a connection between local food producers and institutions,” she said.
One part of the plan is to build upon Adirondack Harvest's wholesale and local food outreach capabilities, through marketing and promotion, web development, and networking. Cooperative Extension staff will also collaborate with Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, Adirondack North Country Association, the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, Harvest New York, and the Hub on the Hill to accomplish project goals.
This grant allows for two full-time staffers, Dohman and Digital Editor Mary Godnick, as well as other team members in the development of projects that will focus on helping institutional buyers navigate local food purchasing, supporting farms to reach wholesale production levels and obtain certifications, increasing value-added product availability, and developing sustainable marketing avenues.
Godnick comes to the project with experience in marketing and communications, most recently with the Adirondack Council and Essex Farm Institute.
“Living in the Adirondacks and working in conservation advocacy has given me a deep appreciation of the critical role farms play in Adirondack communities, food systems, open space, and culture,” Godnick said in a release.
“It's a really exciting time to be involved in such an important project. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the gaps in our food systems really evident, and we hope to keep people engaged and ready to make an impact.”
Project goals are increasing wholesale production and institutional purchasing in the North Country, diversifying farm income, and creating new market channels to promote increased economic viability, Dohman said.
"We see a lot of opportunities to fill gaps in the local food economy," Agriculture Resource Educator Carly Summers said in the release.
"Institutional buyers have the potential to source large quantities of local food, while many farms need support in reaching wholesale production levels in order to diversify their income streams or reach new market outlets. At the same time, we will engage local consumers to help them learn where, why, and how they can access more local food and support the businesses that buy local.”
Carl Bowen, director of Nutritional and Environmental Services at Adirondack Medical Center, said they want high-quality local food for patients and staff.
“Purchasing local food from local farms is just as important in an institutional setting as it is in a restaurant because good food starts with good ingredients,” he said in the release.
"It's also really important to support our local farms, as they are an integral part of our communities."