Looking to assure profitability for New York growers, several agencies are cooperating to increase the purchase of New York-grown food through state food procurement contracts. New York State Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Richard Ball said, “New York agriculture needs to focus on New York being its customer.” That’s just what Governor Andrew Cuomo and several agencies are coordinating efforts to bring about.

A “Buy NY” initiative was announced by the governor at a December Farm to Table Upstate-Downstate Agriculture Summit. Cornell Cooperative Extension, New York State Department of Agriculture & Marketing, New York State Office of General Services and other agencies have begun making inroads over the last year toward increasing awareness of foods grown in New York and increasing the amount of state-grown food purchased in state contracts.

Vegetables targeted

Maire Ullrich, Cornell Extension educator, serves on the 17-county Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Team. Ullrich said, “There’s no reason why every apple on every plate in every institution should not be a New York-grown apple.” New York is second in the nation in apple production. Ullrich noted that onions, potatoes and cabbage are also targeted. “These foods are competitive in price [and] quality, and they’re easy to work with,” Ulrich stated.

Specific language in some state contract requirements has been an issue. Spanish onions, for example, have appeared in state contracts. Ball noted that Spanish onions are in the top range of onion price points, and they’re not grown in New York, which is known for yellow onion production.

Maire Ullrich, Cornell Cooperative Extension educator holding a batch of New York yellow onions, one of the staple food items purchased through state procurement contracts.Photo courtesy of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Orange County. 

 

State procurement contracts

Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito stated that New York Department of Corrections purchased $40 million in New York state products in 2014, which included fresh, frozen and processed fruits. The Office of Mental Health purchased about $2.4 million of its $13 million budget in New York products last year.

Orange County success

Ullrich noted that citizens and government officials are looking more closely at costs. “There has been a shift in thinking about keeping tax dollars local. There are benefits to growers of working with state, county or municipal contracts. While contract bidding does require specific paperwork, the stability of the purchases benefits growers,” she said.

“We have primarily three agencies in Orange County that feed high numbers of people,” Ullrich noted. “In working with these [agencies] we found that nursing homes had a problem purchasing beets within their budget,” Ullrich explained, noting that costs were high. We were able to connect them with a local farmer who was willing to supply them within their budget, and we saved the county about $20,000 last year.” She also noted that school districts often need deliveries on varying schedules, and they have to be connected with growers willing to work on those schedules.

New York State Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Robert Ball.

Increasing access to metropolitan markets

Access to municipal markets and the large private marketplace in New York City offers extensive outlets for New York-grown food.

The December summit cited the need for a regional aggregation hub and processing facility to assist upstate producers and processers in targeting the private sector procurement in metropolitan New York. A regional food hub task force and action plan will be developed with membership from upstate and downstate New York. The task force will include members from the state of New York and New York City, the Department of Agriculture & Markets, New York Farm Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension and other agencies to help expand distribution of regional foods to the New York City marketplace.

Photos courtesy of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Orange County.