An Agenda for Food, Farms and Sustainability

NYLCV is working to unite stakeholders in all parts of the food cycle behind a common agenda that tackles the nexus of farms, food and sustainability. New York State is a major producer of a wide range of agricultural products — from apples to corn to yogurt — and boasts over 35,000 farms covering approximately 7 million acres of land. Many of these farms, especially small family farms, are under serious pressure from developers and the challenging economics of farming in the 21st Century. Conversely, despite a bounty of fresh and local farm goods, many low-income communities lack access to a ordable, fresh and local foods. Farms and consumption of food also play a signi cant role in sustainability as our food systems are vulnerable to climate change, and could help mitigate emissions. We will also address reductions in organic waste at all levels of the food cycle.

The agenda looks at issues across all levels of government. We will work to tackle regional challenges, such as protecting the viability of farmland in Su olk County and local processing capacity for organic waste. At the state level, we will continue to push the Food Recovery and Recycling Act and for farmland preservation funding. The largest challenge will be working with New York’s congressional delegation to get behind a common agenda as the United States Farm Bill comes up for renewal next year. The Farm Bill includes provisions of importance to both rural and urban communities that are more likely to be extended, and possibly even expanded, if there is unity among New York’s members of congress.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, contact Angela Hotaling at

Farmland Preservation and the Local Foodshed

New York State is a major producer of a wide range of agricultural products — ranging from apples to yogurt — and boasts over 35,000 farms covering approximately 7 million acres of land. Many of these farms, especially small family farms, are under serious pressure from developers, the challenging economics of farming in the 21st Century, and an aging or unavailable workforce. Preserving these farms is in the interest of cities across the state seeking to reduce their “foodprint” by ensuring a bountiful supply of locally grown produce. We have fought for — and won — significant investments at the state and local levels, yet demand for preservation funds still far outpaces supply.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP): ACEP, a program funded by the federal Farm Bill, provides technical and financial assistance to nonprofit organizations and state, local, and tribal governments to conserve agricultural lands and wetlands. The continuation of funding for this program aids in New York’s long-term sustainability of food supply, wildlife habitats, environmental quality, and related economic and recreational benefits by promoting sustainable use of these working lands. We are actively working with groups around the state to ensure this is adequately funded in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

Beginning Farmer Agenda Act: This legislation, introduced by Congressman Sean Maloney, would invest in land conservation by making it easier for land trusts to protect farmland, offer capital gains exemptions to farmers that protect their land, and help to speed up the process for beginning farmers to qualify for US Department of Agriculture (USDA) resources. It would also develop new resources at USDA – like self- service portals and regional coordinators for beginning farmer support, reauthorize the vital beginning farmer and rancher development program, and fund individual development accounts to help farmers save for purchases. Finally, this legislation would invest in local and regional food systems by funding the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and helping to support programs that offer resources for farmers. We will push for its inclusion in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

Farmland Protection Implementation Grant Program: Since 1996, New York State has awarded more than $140 million for 233 preservation projects that protect nearly 60,000 acres of farmland across the state. At the same time, the State Department of Agriculture is still inundated with applications for funding and the state is losing thousands of acres of agricultural land to poorly planned development. We will continue to push for robust funding of this program in the State Budget.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: the 2008 Farm Bill first established this critical program to help support efforts to diversify, recruit, and retain beginning farmers in the early stages of their career or second careers in agricultural production.  This Farm Bill program provides annual grant opportunities for not for profits and educational institutions that work directly to support beginning farmers.  Cornell University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Small Farms Program has received several grants designed to provide resources and training to new and beginning farmers, to encourage retiring military veterans to establish first-generation farms, and to assist long term farm employees develop career and business skills needed to branch out in upper level management or eventual farm ownership of their own. We will continue to push for robust funding of this program in the Farm Bill re-authorization.

Foodshed Conservation: New York City depends on farms from around the state for a significant amount of its fresh, local food. There must be a robust effort to protect the city’s foodshed in order to make the long-term supply of fresh food to urban food deserts more robust, reliable and secure. We will work to support local farm preservation initiatives that are structured to take advantage of financial contributions from state and federal governments, maximize the involvement of the region’s land trusts, and work with GrowNYC to help develop networks to supply the new food hub in the Bronx.

Suffolk County Farm Protection: A bill in the State Legislature would clarify that in Suffolk County, agricultural land acquired for preservation may be used for farm operations as needed by the Agriculture and Markets Law. It would ensure that thousands of acres of farmland are both protected from development and are able to remain in operation as active farms, while still permitting municipalities within Suffolk County to regulate new farm operation uses and buildings on agricultural land. The bill is a response to a court decision that has created an overly narrow definition of “agricultural land” that would drive many small farms out of business. While the bill passed the State Senate last year, it did not come to a vote in the Assembly. We will again be pushing for its passage in the upcoming legislative session.

Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems

Climate change will have many impacts on our state’s food systems.  New York State in the past two decades has gained eight additional growing degree days (pointing to a warming temperature) and has seen extreme seasonal fluctuations in water availability and rainfall in addition to difficult weather events like Hurricanes Irene and Lee, and the 2016 severe drought. Recent research points to the need to assist family farmers with both climate adaptation and climate impact mitigation strategies, while deploying new tools to assist researchers, food entrepreneurs and farmers in developing more sustainable and nutritious plant varieties, cropping systems, and local food products. At the other end of the food cycle, steps must be taken at every level of government to ensure that excess food is either donated or recycled in order to divert waste from landfills and reduce methane emissions.

Climate Resilient Farmers: In New York State, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, including dairy farms, represent approximately 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions.  But increasingly farmers are recognizing that certain practices such as utilizing different animal feeding strategies to minimize methane production and covering and flaring gas from manure management systems can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions even further. The Environmental Protection Fund’s Climate Resiliency Farms program provides grant funding to farmers for adapting on-farm systems that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.  We recommend continued funding for this program, along with ongoing support for the Agricultural Environmental Management program, which provides cost-share assistance to New York’s family farms seeking to improve their environmental footprint by deploying sustainable farming strategies.

Pollinator Protection: The causes of native pollinator collapse are complex, but we know there are steps we can take to support pollinator colonies, which play a critical role in the success of local crops. We are supporting the continuation of research and extension of healthy pollinator management strategies through the Cornell Pollinator Health fund in the Environmental Protection Fund. We are also supporting legislation to promote the planting of pollinator gardens on solar farms, which was introduced to the State Legislature last year.

Food Recovery and Recycling Act: Governor Cuomo’s proposal to require large generators of food waste to donate excess edible food and recycle food scraps is a thoughtful, well-crafted policy that will benefit emergency food providers, reduce the amount of compostable waste going to landfills, and create a statewide organics recycling infrastructure that will make it easier for municipalities to adopt their own organics recycling programs should they choose to do so. We are building a statewide coalition to push for this policy’s inclusion in the final adopted State Budget for next year.

Organic Waste Collection in New York City: New York City is ramping up what will soon become the largest curbside residential organic waste collection program in the country, with the potential to divert a significant amount of waste from landfills the accompanying methane gas it releases. In order to reap the full benefits of this initiative, however, we are pushing for increased regional processing capacity to reduce the need to truck organic waste far outside of the city. This could include new facilities in and around the City or increased co-digestion in wastewater treatment plants such as the anaerobic digester at Newtown Creek. Additionally, a sizable increase in funding for educational efforts is needed to boost participation in the program, which is currently voluntary, and we will continue to push for this funding through the city’s budget process.

Integrated Pest Management: Growing food in an outdoor environment without either organic or conventional chemicals is a serious challenge and with climate change, it will become even more difficult. Integrated Pest Management gives farmers the tools they need to make good, informed decisions on pesticide use. Such programs conduct both research and extension into new ways to use biocontrols, such as the introduction of a natural predator, to significantly reduce the need for pesticides. Integrated Pest Management also runs forecasting tools during the season, which helps farmers model the chances of disease or pest pressure, only applying chemicals when absolutely necessary. We recommend continued support for the Cornell Agricultural and Community Integrated Pest Management Programs within the Environmental Protection Fund.

Storing Carbon and Increasing Soil Health: All outdoor farmers start with one fundamental basic necessity, a healthy soil environment.  Research is now showing that healthy soil farm management practices also have an impact on a farms ability to be resilient during increasing weather challenges of too much or too little water, as well as helping to store carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. The Soil Health and Resiliency Program, established in 2017, is helping to create a Soil Road Map for New York State and to provide farmers with tools needed to better manage, conserve, and adapt to climate change stressors through improving soil health practices. We recommend continued support for the new Soil Health and Resiliency program in the Environmental Protection Fund. 

Equitable Access to Safe and Healthy Food

Despite a bounty of fresh and local farm goods, many low-income communities lack access to affordable, fresh and local foods. This has exacerbated a public health crisis in neighborhoods where, lacking options, families turn to highly processed and fast foods that can lead to obesity, cancer, diabetes and a host of other chronic diseases. Similarly, many industrialized food processes — from the use of pesticides to antibiotics to unregulated additives — pose a significant risk to our public health. Though NYLCV has successfully fought for funding for the Health Bucks Program, a tax credit to farmers who donate edible food, and a major expansion of a regional food hub in the South Bronx, there is still much more that needs to be done.

Healthy Food Financing Initiative: This program brings grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities across America. Residents of these communities, which are sometimes called “food deserts,” typically rely on fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh food. Through programs at the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Treasury and Health and Human Services (HHS), HFFI expands access to nutritious food in these communities through efforts such as developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores and farmers markets selling healthy food. We will push for its inclusion and for robust funding as part of the Farm Bill reauthorization next year.

School Meal Reimbursement: NYLCV is urging an increase in funding for school meal reimbursements by 25 cents per meal, contingent on schools sourcing healthy foods grown on local farms. Schools in New York State serve 1.7 million school lunches and 500,000 breakfasts every school day, but most school food programs rely on pre-cooked and processed foods to meet these needs. For many low-income children, school meals could be the only food they eat on some days. Currently, schools are limited in buying more fruits, vegetables, dairy products or other healthy foods because the state reimbursement rate is only $ .0599 per school meal.  We will push for increasing the reimbursement rate by 25 cents for schools to purchase healthy food from local farms as part of next year’s State Budget. This would increase access to fresh, healthy food for millions of New York’s school children and help our local farmers.

Healthy Food Financing in NYC: New York State has had success in expanding the sale of healthy food through the Healthy Food, Healthy Communities Fund, which garners private investment for new grocery stores in neighborhoods with limited access. The program has resulted in 20 new food markets across the state, and 441 permanent employees, but is no longer being funded in the State’s budget. We believe the City should implement a similar healthy food financing initiative with a $10 million investment. An investment of this size on the state level leveraged over $150 million in investments, and we believe that success could be replicated in New York City.

Healthy Soils for Healthy Gardens in NYC: Increased food access can be coupled with experiential learning and increased outdoor access by promoting urban gardening in appropriate areas in New York City such as schools and community gardens with a particular emphasis in underserved areas.  However, urban gardening is not without its challenges in a city environment.  Cornell’s Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities project is working in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension in NYC, NYC Parks and Recreation Department, and the Department of Health to work directly with urban gardeners on researching appropriate soil management techniques and providing education to ensure that urban gardens are healthful environments to grow healthy food.  We recommend continuing to support this important initiative for NYC urban gardeners to improve food access and garden based learning strategies.