Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prioritize New York-grown fruits and vegetables in the new food purchase and distribution program set to replace the Farmers to Families Food Box program.
The coronavirus pandemic caused a breakdown in the food supply chain and left many farmers and hardworking families unable to make ends meet. As restaurants, hotels, schools, and other food service entities ceased or scaled back operations, millions of pounds of produce was dumped, plowed, or left to rot. Meanwhile, food insecurity soared when newly unemployed New Yorkers faced substantial financial hardship and struggled to put healthy and nutritious food—which is often more costly or unavailable in food deserts—on the table. The Farmer to Families Food Box program helped close that gap, by providing hungry families with fresh fruits and vegetables. Ensuring that the program’s replacement continues to supply families with nutritious foods, including New York-grown apples, cabbage, onions, snap peas, and grapes, would combat food insecurity and help put Americans at lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity, all of which lead to higher incidence of severe COVID-19 symptoms.
“Affording a nutritious diet should not depend on your socioeconomic status, but the truth is that hungry families aren’t just struggling to keep food on the table, they’re also struggling to afford nutritious meals that can help keep them healthy during this public health crisis,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The new food purchase and distribution program must connect farmer’s supply with the heightened demand of New Yorkers in need, while also supporting diets rich in vitamins and minerals, which we all need for our health. New York farmers produce delicious and nutritious foods, such as apples, cabbage, onion, snap peas, grapes and more, and including these nutritious foods in this new program will strengthen our diets, our farms, our food system, and our economy at the same time.”
To replace last year’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is currently seeking comments on the development, coordination, and implementation of a new food purchase and distribution program. USDA has stated that this program is intended to provide additional aid to nonprofits serving Americans in need of nutrition assistance.
Gillibrand has expressed that the new program has the unique opportunity to boost America’s fruit and vegetable farmers that have been hit hard by the economic crisis, combat food and nutrition and security, and potentially lead to better health outcomes for cash-strapped families. More than 80% of American’s have dietary patterns that are low in fruits, and 90% are low in vegetables.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Gillibrand has worked to protect farmers and reinforce the nation’s food supply, especially throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Last year, Senator Gillibrand introduced the Food Bank Access to Farm Fresh Produce Act, which would address disruptions in the food supply chain caused by the coronavirus pandemic and directly connect farms to food banks by providing $8 billion in block grants to food banks in the top vegetable and fruit producing states to purchase crops directly from farmers.