Investing in the Future of New York Farming in the State Budget
One year and some change into the pandemic, we are still reckoning with the impacts of this crisis and the abrupt shifts it has forced upon our lives. We have experienced great pain and grief while also witnessing inspiring leadership and ingenuity. We have been pushed to reconsider priorities, re-adjust strategies, and question whether we want a return to “normal” or together create a different future that better reflects how we want our communities to look and work.
I, like many, am driven by a vision of a resilient and just food system where healthy, culturally appropriate foods from local farms are easily accessible, empty grocery store shelves are faint memories, and our agricultural landscape reflects the diversity of people, tastes, and food traditions we see represented throughout New York. Achieving this future requires keeping land in farming, bringing a diverse new generation of farmers onto the land, and investing in our local and regional food supply chains while ensuring there are lucrative markets for farmers to sell to.
The past year has been immensely challenging, but the future is looking up for New Yorkers thanks to leaders and lawmakers in our state government who worked to include strong funding for programs that will help protect irreplaceable farmland, address the impacts of climate change in agriculture, bring a new generation of farmers on the land, invest in our local food system, and provide more kids with access to healthy, fresh, nutritious, and locally produced food in this year’s state budget!
State Budget Wins
#1: Keeping Farmers on the Land
Thanks to champions in the legislature, Farmland for a New Generation New York, a program that helps existing, new, and beginning farmers match with landowners or retiring farmers to facilitate the transition of farmland, was funded this year at a record $500,000! This $100,000 increase in funding will help expand the statewide network of Regional Navigators who provide one-on-one support to farmers and landowners, and will enable AFT to provide translation and interpretation services to help non-English speaking farmers find land across New York. Together, these actions will help Farmland for a New Generation New York continue building upon the successes of the past two years and support more farmers in accessing land to feed their communities.
#2: Permanently Protecting Farmland
Farmland protection funding was maintained this year at $18 million as part of a $300 million Environmental Protection Fund. This funding will help address the high farmer demand for funds to permanently protect their land from development while also investing in capital upgrades, paying off debt, and/or making it financially possible to retire and transfer their farm to the next generation. In addition, a Farmland Protection Working Group was established within the executive branch to develop recommendations for smart solar siting of large scale projects on farmland.
#3: Ensuring Climate Resiliency with Farming
On climate, the Environmental Protection Fund included $4.5 million for the Climate Resilient Farming Grants program, which invests in projects that reduce farm GHG emissions, improve soil health, and bolster water quality and efficiency. The governor and the legislature also reauthorized the $3 billion Environmental Bond Act, which will appear on the ballot for New York voters in November of 2022! If approved by voters, this once-in-a-generation investment will fund projects that improve New York’s climate resilience and water quality while creating jobs. On farms, at least $100 million from this bond would be invested in permanent farmland protection, and millions in additional funding would be dedicated to programs that reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions, protect waterways, and measure and increase soil health.
#4: Supporting Healthy Kids and Local Farms
New York is also continuing to invest in our nation–leading farm to school programs – the Farm to School Reimbursement Incentive and the Farm to School Grants program were funded again this year at $10 million and $1.5 million respectively. These two programs work in concert to help schools purchase and serve more New York grown food to students while building up more resilient local supply chains. AFT research has shown that with continued support, 75% of schools can reach 30% spending on local food, injecting $250 million into the farm economy while feeding 900,000 students across the state with healthy, local food. Alongside this continued funding, the newly announced regional farm to school coordinator program, advocated for by AFT and our partners, will help schools increase their purchases of New York grown food and coordinate between regions of the state, bringing us another step closer to unleashing the transformative power of farm to school purchasing for our farmers, kids, and communities.
Thanks to the many folks who made these outcomes possible!
We thank Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Ball, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Senator Hinchey, Senator Kaminsky, Senator May, Senator Mayer, Assembly Speaker Heastie, Assemblywoman Lupardo, Assemblyman Englebright, Assemblywoman Woerner, Assemblyman Benedetto, and all of their staff for negotiating a final budget with strong funding for programs that save the land that sustains us.
We also thank our fantastic partners across the state, spanning farm and environmental organizations, land trusts, schools, and so many others who worked alongside us to advocate for these programs (like at this year’s first-ever, all virtual Alliance for New York’s Farmland lobby day!), and who work tirelessly every day to build a more resilient farm and food future for New York.
We offer heartfelt thanks to our farmers, farmworkers, school food service providers, and other food service workers who have overcome countless hurdles over the past year to keep us fed.
Finally, we thank you for taking action at key moments by calling and writing your state representatives to let them know what these programs mean to you and your community. Lawmakers cannot act for the people without hearing from the people – the time you took to communicate with them was impactful, meaningful, and appreciated.
We look forward to working alongside you all to keep saving the land that sustains us in New York. Please stay tuned for future opportunities to join us in speaking up for New York’s farms!