While families across the country gathered together to give thanks and celebrate at dinner tables near and far, legislation sat on Governor Cuomo’s desk that would have helped increase the amount of fresh, healthy food available to vulnerable New Yorkers.
With nearly 14 percent of New York’s population—2.6 million people, one third of them children—lacking access to adequate food to meet their nutritional needs, it is action that is sorely needed.
Unfortunately, when the governor returned from his Thanksgiving break, he vetoed the Farm to Food Bank bill.
Killing this legislation—which passed both houses unanimously and had the support of an unprecedented coalition of more than 150 farming, hunger, and environmental groups—was a missed opportunity to help feed hungry New Yorkers and support struggling farmers at the same time.
But it’s not too late. In the spirit of the holiday season, Governor Cuomo should seize upcoming alternative opportunities to get more fresh food to disadvantaged New Yorkers—whether by addressing them through the upcoming budget process or by supporting more comprehensive food waste legislation he could champion in the new year.
The Farm to Food Bank bill would have provided farmers with a refundable tax credit up to $5,000 for donating produce to food banks and emergency food programs. Donating farmers would have been reimbursed for 25 percent of the wholesale cost of their product. In other words, if a farmer made a donation of $20,000 worth of fresh produce he or she would have received the maximum $5,000 tax credit. And for the state, this credit would have reaped four times its value in providing fresh food for hungry New Yorkers.
Not only would this tax credit have brought more fresh, healthy food into the emergency food system, it would have helped farmers cover costs associated with picking and packing fresh fruits and vegetables that never make it to market. Nearly 100 million pounds of perfectly good produce is left in the fields every year due to superficial aesthetic imperfections—such as crooked carrots or small apples.
This all also comes with added benefits for the environment. Forty percent of food in this country goes to waste, and it’s the number one component of trash sent to landfills. There, it emits methane, a potent climate change pollutant, as it rots. Reducing the amount of food that goes to waste not only avoids those negative impacts, it also ensures that all of the land and water resources used to grow the food do not go to waste. With 25 percent of the nation’s fresh water and an area of land larger than Canada used to grow food that is never eaten—there’s a lot of room for improvement.
With so many positive impacts for the hungry, New York’s agricultural community, and the environment, connecting the dots between farms and food banks just makes sense. Governor Cuomo should act in the spirit of the holiday season by not letting this opportunity die with the bill. He should move the farm to food bank credit forward in the new year and share these benefits with the millions of people across the state who are struggling to feed their families.