As small and mid-size farms across the country continue to face pressure and are being lost at astounding rates, new local economic outlets are being sought to keep these farms in business. For some, farmers’ markets and CSAs have provided a much needed retail customer base. However, institutions–such as hospitals, universities, government agencies, and other meal providers–represent an even larger opportunity to purchase farm products and thus increase the amount of local food consumed in a region.
New York is one of the nation’s top food-producing states with 36,000 farms and over 7 million acres of farmland. Yet roughly 4,500 farms have been lost to real estate development since the early 1980s, leading farmers to seek greater economic opportunities to sustain their businesses. At the same time, New York City funds 230 million institutional meals each year through multiple City agencies. Excluding the Department of Education and the Department of Corrections, which together serve approximately 188 million meals annually, about 40 million City-funded meals are served each year by nonprofit organizations, including early childhood centers, senior centers, homeless shelters and home-delivered meal providers.
This briefing will bring together leaders working to significantly expand the volume of fruits, vegetables and other foods grown by local farmers that are served in schools, senior centers, daycare programs and other community institutions. We will highlight the importance of institutional feeding programs to local economies and public health, highlight barriers to increasing the volume of local food served in institutions, and identify opportunities to scale up this important movement for the benefit all New Yorkers.