A group that counts seven Hudson Valley counties as its members has received New York state funding to continue its work in food rescue and combating food insecurity. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has more.
Rich Schiafo is senior planner with the Newburgh-based Hudson Valley Regional Council, which is the recipient of a $20,000 grant from New York state.
“And the money is going towards bringing awareness to the need to reduce food waste and the bounty of food that we have here in the Hudson Valley and the need to feed people,” Schiafo says.
It all culminates in October with an event on the Poughkeepsie side of pedestrian bridge Walkway Over the Hudson called Feeding the Hudson Valley, for which the Council and its partners prepare and serve a free meal of recovered food from the following sources.
“So all food that we have gleaned from local farms or had donated from local farms that would have otherwise gone to waste,” says Schiafo. “ So it’s food that farmers could not potentially market whether they’re misshapen tomatoes or just too much of a particular crop, too much eggplant, too many peppers, too small, too big, for whatever reason they can’t market as well as going to other local markets.”
At last year’s inaugural event, the Hudson Valley Regional Council and its partners rescued more than 3,000 pounds of food, providing more than 1,400 free meals, 800 of which were donated to area food agencies. One of the Hudson Valley Regional Council’s many partners is the Kingston-based Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency, where Merlyn Akhtar is recycling coordinator.
“A lot of it is just education. Part of the event is just showing people how many people you can feed with all that food that might have just gone in the garbage,” Akhtar says. “It’s good food, healthy food, that we could feed people right where we live.”
“We have a tremendous amount of food waste in this country. Forty percent of the food that we grow in this country goes uneaten,” Schiafo says. “And then we have a food insecurity problem where we have about 1 in 7 people that do not have enough food, particularly over the summer.”
Both Schiafo and Akhtar say transportation and storage are two key issues — getting the rescue food to those who need it. Akhtar says coordination needs attention and food pantries can be hard pressed to access and/or store produce.
“It needs to be kind of a cold storage and that’s a big issue for a lot of people. Who’s open? The person who has the extra food may be open but the person who can take it is not open. And there’s a lot of coordination of who can go pick it up. Is someone there to receive it, trying to match donors with receivers,” says Akhtar. “And then, on the other hand, there’s also just educating people. There might be people who have extra food who don’t know that there’s an outlet for it to go somewhere, and so they just end up throwing it out even though they know that, ‘Hey, I should be doing something with this. But I just don’t know where to go or where to turn.’”
Since the first Feeding the Hudson Valley event, Schiafo says there is growing awareness and a positive development.
“One good thing since the past October is that in this year’s New York state budget, there was an approval for farmers to be able to now take a tax credit on their state taxes. “There has been a federal tax credit for farmers to donate excess produce,” says Schiafo. “Now there is a state tax credit, which is a little more incentive for farmers to be able to donate.”
The Hudson Valley Regional Council is one of 10 organizations to get a grant from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, which is sponsored by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The community grants are part of ongoing efforts to improve the health and environment of New York.