American Farmland Trust Releases Report Outlining Potential to Revolutionize School Food in New York if the State Acts Now

The New York State Farm to School Purchasing Incentive program provides an opportunity to increase access to local food for 700k students, generating nearly $150M for local farms by 2024.

Today, American Farmland Trust, the organization behind the national movement No Farms No Food®, released “Growing Opportunity for Farm to School: How to Revolutionize School Food, Support Local Farms, and Improve the Health of Students in New York.” This report reveals the incredible economic potential for the New York farm economy of recent farm to school initiatives, as well as their opportunity to increase access to healthy, local food for kids throughout the state.

Farm to school programs create new market opportunities for farmers who are currently facing significant economic challenges. This report reveals that, with further state support, New York schools could increase their purchases of food from New York farms threefold to nearly $150 million, which would generate over $210 million in economic impact while costing the state less than half that amount over the course of the next five years. Beyond the economics, farm to school programs are an important strategy to improve nutrition for school-age children as about half of a students’ daily calories come from school meals. In addition, these programs provide access to farm fresh food to those that need it most – on average 46% of students statewide come from families that face financial challenges.

“Growing Opportunity” details the results of AFT’s in-depth look at recent farm to school efforts in New York and the current and future impacts of the New York State Farm to School Purchasing Incentive program funded by the state budget, and first proposed through Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 No Student Goes Hungry Initiative. This program incentivizes schools to increase their spending on food from New York farms for lunch meals by quadrupling their current reimbursement if they spend at least 30% of their lunch budget on food from New York farms. Though 30% is a challenge to achieve, this report reveals significant potential for the program and outlines eight recommendations on which the state of New York can act starting immediately to unlock its potential impact on the farm economy and student health. These recommendations include expanding the incentive to include all school meals and modestly increasing funding for the Farm to School grants program this year.

“AFT learned the 30% spending threshold can be difficult to achieve, yet it is possible with the right support. And enthusiasm is high—72% of schools feel that with this assistance they could increase their spending on New York grown food to 30% by 2024. However, to make this happen, we need the state of New York to act during the 2021 state budget and in years to come to help them get there,” said Samantha Levy, New York policy manager for American Farmland Trust.

She continued, “Beginning to take the steps outlined in the ‘Growing Opportunity’ report this year, including continuing to fund farm to school programs and establishing a statewide network of coordinators, is critical. Taking these actions will build on the current enthusiasm and not only improve the economy and future for our farms, but also improve the lives of children and strengthen communities across New York. A win-win-win.”

The “Growing Opportunity” report also reveals that New York’s Farm to School Incentive program is worthy of adaptation by other state governments and at the federal level given its potential to strengthen the national farm economy, while providing more local, nutritious foods to k-12 students nationwide.

“Growing Opportunity” is made possible thanks to support from the New York State Health Foundation and members of American Farmland Trust.

About the Author
Samantha Levy

New York Policy Manager

slevy@farmland.org

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