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Latest Capitol View takes on challenges of food insecurity

April 25, 2024

According to recent state estimates, one in four New Yorkers is now struggling to put food on their table.

These numbers are shocking, and they encompass our family members, friends, coworkers and our neighbors. Food insecurity is impacting children, retirees, single parents and people working two, and even three, jobs. In a country and a state with so much wealth and abundance, it is hard to imagine so many people are going hungry. This is a silent pandemic, one that many organizations and agencies are working tirelessly to combat.

For its latest iteration of The Capitol Viewseries in mid-April, The Martin Grouphosted a few of the individuals currently dedicated to closing the meal gap across New York State: Amy Klein, CEO of Capital Roots; Erin Donahue, member of Free Food Fridge Albany; Lauren Williams, Senior Policy Advisory for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; and Lisa Buhrmaster, owner of Black Horse Farms.

This topic is particularly important to The Martin Group because of our strong relationships with those in the food industry and emergency food system. Clients such as the Regional Food Bank, FeedMore WNY, International Foodservice Manufacturers Association, the New York State Restaurant Association and others are some of the groups helping address food insecurity.

Over the course of our recent group discussion, here were some of the most important takeaways.

Supporting local farms

Local farms are the most important supplier of fresh produce, meat and dairy. They are critical to ensuring everyone has access to nutritious food. But according to the event’s participants, farms have experienced a post-pandemic decrease in customer reliance on their goods. Meanwhile, the costs to operate a farm continue to rise. And the responsibility to close the meal gap cannot be not put solely on farmers.

Farms view the state’s Nourish New York initiative as one of the most beneficial programs for getting fresh food to communities. Funding provided through the program allows emergency food providers to purchase surplus products from farmers and dairy manufacturers and deliver it to individuals and families in need. The program requires an annual increase in state funding in order for it to continue and be successful. This year, $50 million was approved as part of the FY 2024-25 State Budget.

Expanding distribution

There is an abundance of food yet, every year, 3.9 million tons of wasted food ends up in landfills in New York State. So where is the biggest opportunity for combatting food insecurity? The day’s participants noted distribution, moving the food to the community where it is needed.

There needs to be a focus on building out infrastructure for the retail environment that is equitable and accessible for everyone. That includes making it easier to access produce in the off-season; better communication and coordination amongst food programs; and increasing benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Diversity in choice

Emergency food providers are increasingly including more culturally diverse food options in their inventories, and there are differing views about what belongs on the dinner table.

So as a community, how do we empower different groups to access the foods they want and that speak to their culture? The one-word answer: access.

A lot of culturally appropriate foods are not grown here. Perhaps there are crops not currently grown in New York State that could thrive and meet the diverse needs. When we improve access to culturally appropriate foods, we provide more than just nutrition. We provide hope, dignity, respect, and a little reminder of home.

A group effort

The day’s top takeaway: Continuing the discussion about hunger is crucial. It takes support on the local, state, and federal levels to combat stigmas surrounding food insecurity, accepting necessary aid, and breaking down barriers between hunger and help. With more education, coordination and investment, the state can get closer to filling the stomachs of every New Yorker, every day.

The Capitol View series aims to shine a light on issues that impact New Yorkers that they may not otherwise be aware of. With The Martin Group’s philosophy of “the difference is making one,” we believe small changes can make big differences.

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