No Farms No Food: Putting New York on the Path for a Resilient Farm and Food Future
These are extraordinary times, when we are all quietly and heroically coping with enormous challenges, while witnessing the work of extraordinary people. As essential workers our farmers, farmworkers, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, school food service staff, and emergency feeding operators are reporting to work every day so that we may continue to nourish ourselves. And this food would not be available to us without the farmland where it is grown and raised—a finite resource too often taken for granted, but one that forms the foundation for our continued ability to eat.
The leadership of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, witnessed daily through public briefings, was echoed more quietly in the halls of the capitol during the final weeks of March when he, state legislators, and all of their staff worked to prepare, negotiate, and pass a timely state budget amidst financial uncertainty and growing concerns around COVID-19.
This year’s enacted budget included strong funding for programs that keep land in farming and farmers on the land, both essential for our continued ability to grow food to feed New Yorkers and others in good times and bad. And the support of state leaders for these programs during this unprecedentedly difficult time demonstrates that they, too, understand the critical need for a more resilient farm and food system, one where we do not again experience empty grocery shelves and hungry people alongside farmers destroying their products because there is nowhere for this food to go.
To keep New York on the path of building a strong local farm and food economy now and in the future, we need farmland. This year’s enacted budget included $18 million as part of a $300-million Environmental Protection Fund to invest in permanent farmland protection across the state. This funding will help farm families invest in capital upgrades, expand their business, pay off debt, or retire and transfer their farm to the next generation, all while permanently protecting these irreplaceable acres from development—critical to keeping farms viable during these difficult economic times. This year’s state budget also included an exciting new proposal from Governor Cuomo for a $3-billion Environmental Bond Act. If placed on the ballot and passed by New York voters in November, this would invest an additional $100 million in permanent farmland protection while also funding farm projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect waterways, and measure and increase soil health.
New York also needs farmers. With one-third of farmers over 65 managing nearly 2 million acres of farmland, about a third of our farmland will become vulnerable to development as it changes hands in the coming years when senior farmers retire. This, and the challenges new and beginning farmers face in finding land to launch successful new businesses, will be exacerbated by the current health crisis and economic fallout. This year’s enacted budget includes $400,000 in funding to support Farmland for a New Generation New York, a statewide partnership between American Farmland Trust, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, county Cornell Cooperative Extensions, and other organizations. The program is helping farmers find land to start new businesses and assisting senior farmers working to pass their land on to the next generation. Started in fall of 2018, Farmland for a New Generation New York has helped launch 38 new farm businesses on more than 1,000 acres of land so far.
Finally, our current times highlight the need to use every dollar available to the greatest effect. A recent report released by American Farmland Trust on our Farm to School programs found that with the right support, schools could increase the amount they are able to spend on food from New York farms to nearly $150 million, generating over $210 million in economic activity statewide while increasing access to healthy local food for over 700,000 students. This year’s New York state budget carries forward this potential by including $1.5 million in funding for the Farm to School grants program and $10 million in support to continue the nation-leading New York State Farm to School Reimbursement Incentive, which helps schools spend more money on healthy, fresh, local food from New York farms to feed students. And in recent weeks, the governor announced the Nourish New York initiative to continue to build resilient local supply chains to get farm products produced in New York to those that need them.
As we navigate a public health crisis, the economic fallout, and the ripple effects of food supply chain disruptions, our state leaders will need to continue to invest in the future of New York’s farmland and the farmers who steward it. Our work is not yet done this year, as the state budget will reopen for periodic review and will also require commitment in the years to come. But we have a great start thanks to the leadership of extraordinary people. We extend tremendous gratitude to Governor Cuomo, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, and Senators Jen Metzger, Rachel May, Todd Kaminsky, Shelley Mayer, as well as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Assemblymembers Donna Lupardo, Steve Englebright, Michael Benedetto, and Carrie Woerner–these leaders and their staff all deserve enormous credit.
Of course, a special thanks to partners across the state, spanning farm, environmental, conservation, school, and others, who worked alongside us to make all of this possible and continue to work each day to keep land in farming, keep farmers on the land, and build a more resilient farm and food future for New York. And most of all, thank you to our farmers, farmworkers, and other food service workers throughout the supply chain who, at great risk, are working to feed us every day.
Please stay tuned for future opportunities this year to join us in speaking up for New York farms to ensure a strong and resilient future for farming in New York. After all, No Farms No Food!
Photo Credit: Josh Baldo