Teresa Whalen of Warrensburg (left) talks with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Aug. 26, during the Senator's visit to a Wilton market, about initiatives that connect citizens with fresh local food. Gillibrand expressed support for the pending federal 'Local Farm, Food & Jobs Act' that is intended to boost family farms while providing communities with new access to local produce. Affiliated with Adirondack Harvest based in Essex County, Whalen has been organizing workplace distribution of fresh foods in the southern Adirondack region and advocating for sustainable local economies.
WILTON — In a visit to a local fresh-food supermarket April 26, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) expressed support for a pending farm bill that would aid smaller farm operations while boosting citizens’ access to nutritious locally-grown food.
Gillibrand talked about the proposed federal “Local Farm, Food & Jobs Act” during a visit to Wilton Mall’s Healthy Living Market & Cafe, which opened in late March. The enterprise, which occupies 34,000 square feet of space in the Wilton Mall, offers food from dozens of area farms. The supermarket is described by its management as a “health-focused and socially conscious market” by its management.
“Families are eager to buy fresh local produce and this bill help connects family farms with communities,” Gillibrand said. “By investing in local agriculture, we are investing in healthy economies and healthy communities.”
She continued that the measure would promote sustainable agriculture, expand access to credit and markets for area farmers, and increase access to local, affordable fresh produce.
The farm bill as now drafted would:
• allow SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) to be redeemed at farms and Community Supported Agriculture operations;
• employ mobile technology for redeeming SNAP benefits at local food markets;
• provide $20 million in incentives for families on public assistance to buy fresh fruits and vegetables;
• allow small school districts to use federal money to purchase fresh local produce;
• double the money now allocated to develop community food projects;
• ensure that lenders provide credit to qualifying smaller local farms;
• extend insurance programs to address needs of smaller diversified farms that can’t now get coverage to meet their needs;
• provide for enhanced insurance coverage to organic crops;
• help organic farmers in meeting the costs of certification,
• provide new grant funding for food processors that create products using the fruits, vegetables and meat from local farmers;
• provide funding to boost collection and distribution of farm products, particularly to underserved communities;
• offer new funding for promotion of not only farmers’ markets but other fresh-food distribution programs; and
• devise programs and establish grants to improve farm profitability and sustainability — and increase the consumption and affordability of fruits and vegetables in low-income communities.
Teresa Whalen of Warrensburg, who has been working for several years to connect Adirondack residents and schools with local farmers and their products, said she was excited about the various initiatives contained in the farm bill.
“This bill has a lot of merit — it’s wonderful,” she said minutes after she talked with Gillibrand about Adirondack farm sustainability initiatives and praised the Senator for her endorsement of the Local Farms bill.
This new measure helps alleviate problems now threatening the survival of small farms, said Whalen, who is affiliated with Adirondack Harvest, based in Essex County. Also, Whalen is promoting the Workplace CSA Farm Share Program, which is operated by Juniper Hill Farm of Wadhams.
Farm programs and federal school lunch mandates have to date favored massive farming operations at the expense of local farmers, Whalen added.
“This bill has provisions to encourage beneficial farm-to-school initiatives,” she “Allowing schools access to federal funding for purchasing local products is a tremendous plus, as it supports the local economy and gets healthy locally-grown foods into our schools.”
Justine Denison, a farmer from Schaghticoke who raises produce for a large CSA network, sells directly at various farmers markets plus wholesales vegetables to grocers, said she was happy about the provisions in the new bill.
“I’m excited and grateful,” she said. “We really appreciate how the legislators respect what we do.”
Whalen said that more needs to be done to aid the smallest farm operations, which now face hefty insurance costs and permitting fees. She noted that an enterprise she was involved in, Adirondack Farm-to-Pantry Initiative, had difficulties last year obtaining adequate liability insurance.
Smaller dairy farms are suffering the most, she said, noting that many in upstate rural New York have gone bankrupt.
“It’s very difficult now for farmers to make a decent living,” she said. “I’d like to see measures like this go a lot further in the future.”
Among Whalen’s suggestions were that health insurers, who now offer cash incentives to their clients for signing up for gym memberships, extend similar payouts to clients participating in workplace CSAs which deliver nutritious local produce.