Buffalo Schools Choose Producers for NY Food for NY Families

Building a new supermarket or planning a multimillion-dollar community market project aren’t the only ways to reduce food insecurity in Buffalo.

In the case of the NY Food for NY Families initiative, planners say the benefits will be remarkable for Buffalo Public Schools, district families, the surrounding community and 10 local producers over the next two years.

Nutritious, locally produced fruits, vegetables and proteins will be divided into “Buffalo Farm Shares” and distributed free to families at Community Schools’ Saturday Academies. These day-long gatherings offer cultural, recreational and educational programs for children and adults at 22 rotating sites – but usually four or more each Saturday, detailed on the Community Schools Facebook page.

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The academies, a partnership between the district and Say Yes Buffalo, run through June. Farm shares will be distributed through district partners over the summer before resuming to community schools in the fall.

The goal is to connect Buffalo’s underserved populations with local produce, fruit and protein producers seeking new markets. They can distribute their products through the urban school district’s existing infrastructure — its primary means of reaching families and immersing itself in neighborhoods — and view the effort as a positive step.

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“It’s a big deal on so many levels,” said Allison DeHonney, executive director of Urban Fruits & Veggies, one of the local growers selected through a competitive bidding process. “It’s great for students to be exposed to the local agricultural sector.

In a Buffalo School Board vote Wednesday to approve the remainder of this school year, Eden Valley Growers received by far the largest amount, about $232,000. EVG is a cooperative which markets and distributes for 10 family farms in the Eden region. Wardynski’s Meats, a veteran partner of Buffalo Schools based on Peckham Street near Buffalo Central Terminal, Burly Bros. Country Butchery, Ellicottville Greens, Issa’s Pita Chips, Flat 12 Mushrooms and DeHonney’s Farm were the other producers within a 50-mile radius to receive new money. .

Slate Foods, Headwater Food Hub and Mosner Family Brands were the New York producers selected outside this department. Providence Farm Collective, which empowers refugee growers in Orchard Park, has already received $10,000 through the NY Food for NY Families program ahead of Wednesday’s RFP results.

Families are asked to bring a tote bag to Saturday academies, and they are limited to one farm share per household. A portion can include 3 pounds of meat, eggs, one dairy product, eight vegetables, 5 pounds of potatoes, a 3-pound bag of apples and more, according to Buffalo’s tender. Buffalo intends to distribute 26,000 of these shares each month, along with an additional 5,000 halal shares.

Buffalo Go Green Urban Farm (copy)

Allison DeHonney grows produce hydroponically in the Bailey-Green neighborhood using greenhouses and a growing container. She will provide lettuce for the NY Food for NY Families initiative.

Derek Gee/News Archive Photo

These academies serve community members unaffiliated with Buffalo Public Schools as well as neighborhood families and children and have been distributing free food from New York City since last year. A recent $2 million grant awarded to the district has helped it expand its opportunities exponentially, especially for small growers like Urban Fruits & Veggies, which will supply hydroponic lettuce from its greenhouses and container of culture on Zenner Street.

This grant marks Urban Fruits & Veggies’ second contract with Buffalo schools, an accomplishment DeHonney thought impossible until the district, with the help of Cornell Cooperative Extension, changed its procurement process to give small producers and minority farmers a better chance to contribute. Grants to empower hyperlocal producers are another avenue through which they can get involved.

“I accepted for years that this would never happen,” she said.

The terms of the grant, which consisted of federal funding flowing through the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, called for a competitive process evaluated based on price, but also proximity and other factors. For example, if a supplier was based in Buffalo, they would receive 20 points; if it fell within 50 miles of Buffalo, it would receive 10 points; or if it was just New York State it would receive one point. Socially disadvantaged farmers and NY Grown certified producers could also receive additional points.

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New York products still represent a relatively small slice of the Buffalo pie. Most of the food served is frozen, processed, shipped from across the country and reheated. With this study demonstrating that fresh food is not a costly endeavor, Buffalo can more confidently build its farm-to-school program, and more districts can pursue the state’s push to work with growers local.

DeHonney hopes that families enjoying local produce will inspire students to consider a career in agriculture, urban or rural. “We are struggling when it comes to the pool of workers and their skills,” she said Friday.

The district has budgeted about $450,000 in grants for this year and about $1.2 million for next school year.

“We’re very excited,” said DeHonney, who also runs the nonprofit Buffalo Go Green.

Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at btsujimoto@buffnews.com, (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.

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