October 22, 2021

Need for food remains high during pandemic

Feeding Cortland County

Photo provided by Cornell Chronicle

Johanna Gertin drives a tractor to harvest potatoes last summer at Homer C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm in Freeville.

Hunger in the greater Cortland area and beyond has nearly tripled this year, reports the Food Bank of Central New York — so much that 37 tons of produce donated from the fields and farms of Cornell University are just a dent in demand.

The Food Bank of Central New York and the Food Bank of the Southern Tier have both partnered with agencies across the region, including Cortland and Tompkins counties, to ensure families get food during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We did some extra mobile food pantries,” said Lynn Hy, the chief development officer for the Food Bank of Central New York. It partnered with 21 agencies, both emergency and non-emergency, to distribute food in Cortland, including Farmers to Family food boxes with the Cortland Enlarged City School District.

Some of that food came from fields in Freeville and elsewhere that Cornell University grew, 37 tons of it.

Some came from the cabbage seedlings that Professor Antonio Di’Tommaso donated to the Homer C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm in Freeville, which is managed by the college’s Agricultural Experiment Station, Cornell Chronicle reports. The cabbage harvest was donated to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, which the college has worked with for 16 years. It has seen a 37% increase in food requests since the pandemic began.

Of the 37 tons of food donated, 22 tons were farm fresh food like peppers, beets and pumpkins, according to the article.

Ending hunger

Find a food bank: www.211cortland.org/food-pantry

To donate: Seven Valleys Health Coalition has a donate button on its website, https://www.sevenvalleyshealth.org/. It has no field to specify which program, but donors can email that information to Assistant Director Susan Williams at susan@sevenvalleyshealth.org. Donors can also mail a check to Hunger Coalition, Seven Valleys Health Coalition, 10 Kennedy Parkway, Cortland, N.Y. 13045

“Donations from our partners allow us to continue to offer healthy and nutritious options to those who are experiencing food insecurity across the region during a time when they need it most,” Natasha R. Thompson, president and CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, told the Cornell Chronicle. “The Food Bank of the Southern Tier is grateful for the support we receive from Thompson Research Farm.”

The Food Bank of Central New York has also seen a 186% increase this year between March 1 to Sept. 30, compared to last year’s numbers. In 2020, the food bank distributed 823,325 pounds of food. In 2019, it distributed 287,875 pounds.

“The need still remains high in the county,” Hy said.

In August, the bank distributed 134,000 pounds, in September 146,000 pounds and although the numbers aren’t final, Hy said October’s numbers looked to be around 140,000 pounds.

“COVID made it clear very quickly that more effort needed to be made to have food pantries collaborating with one another and to have an entity in the county who had their arms around all of the food programs in the county,” said Susan Williams, the assistant director of Seven Valley Health Coalition.

The coalition is developing new food programs, including a food rescue program and a fruit and vegetable prescription program — where health care providers write a prescription for fresh produce. The coalition is seeking grants for the program.

Williams said it is likely that recipients would get a community-supported agriculture share. She said other prescription programs use vouchers to spend at farm markets.

“Ultimately, we would love to do that but it is a heavier lift with more funding than we would have available to us if we receive this grant,” she said. “Participants will also receive support and education throughout the program, and can receive nutrition counseling and attend cooking and chronic disease self-management and/or prevention classes depending on their diagnosis.”

The food rescue program is ongoing work through a $200,000 state Department of Environmental Conservation grant the city of Cortland got in 2019, which allowed Seven Valleys to organize gleaning events, harvesting the last produce from the fields, and the dairy distribution at SUNY Cortland.

“Ultimately the goal of that program is to both educate and organize to decrease food waste both by composting, increased knowledge of food scrap usage/ production prevention and increased donations,” she said.