Rochester Food Policy Council (fiscal sponsor: Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, dba Common Ground Health)

Food systems planning is a collaborative process among farmers, retailers, consumers, nonprofits, health systems, and government to develop priorities and implement practices that shape how regional food systems operate.

It can result in improvements like changes in food procurement at public institutions, revisions to urban gardening codes, and better access to local food, which in turn have a positive impact on food security and health. NYHealth is supporting eight food planning groups in New York State that are developing tailored regional food systems plans. The funding enables these alliances to put plans into action by hiring dedicated staff, speeding up coalition building, seeking community and resident input, and communicating to stakeholders about the positive impact of food planning on local food systems. Two of these eight groups are now ready to put their plans into action. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Rochester Food Policy Council (ROC) a grant to support the implementation of local food systems plans to make healthy, local food more available. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with the Adirondack Food Systems Network.

Under this grant, ROC will undertake a range of activities to implement its plan. It will form a partnership with the City of Rochester to launch a healthy food grant and loan program to fund retail food businesses. Together with the City, ROC will also create a community food system plan that prioritizes healthy food access and nutrition-centered food procurement goals in public institutions. Additionally, ROC will work to expand public gardens and support a youth-led advocacy campaign for healthier food options at recreation centers.

Adirondack Food Systems Network (fiscal sponsor: AdkAction.org, Inc.)

Food systems planning is a collaborative process among farmers, retailers, consumers, nonprofits, health systems, and government to develop priorities and implement practices that shape how regional food systems operate.

It can result in improvements like changes in food procurement at public institutions, revisions to urban gardening codes, and better access to local food, which in turn have a positive impact on food security and health. NYHealth is supporting eight food planning groups in New York State that are developing tailored regional food systems plans. The funding enables these alliances to put plans into action by hiring dedicated staff, speeding up coalition building, seeking community and resident input, and communicating to stakeholders about the positive impact of food planning on local food systems. Two of these eight groups are now ready to put their plans into action. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Adirondack Food Systems Network (AFSN) a grant to support the implementation of local food systems plans to make healthy, local food more available. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with the Rochester Food Policy Council.

Under this grant, AFSN will work to make it easier for rural areas with smaller populations to compete for funds and implement local programs. AFSN will also implement a regional outreach and enrollment plan for nutrition incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks and Fresh Connect to maximize enrollment and efficiency. It will partner with local food producers to secure contracts with and supply food to local schools and health care institutions. In addition, AFSN will consolidate regional data from food system producers and distributors, retail locations, composters, nutrition programs, and health and funding information into an online repository to identify patterns and benchmarks and to evaluate progress.

The Food Pantries for the Capital District

People with uncertain access to food have lower diet quality, higher rates of diet-related disease, and higher health care costs.

Medically supportive food and nutrition services, known as Food Is Medicine (FIM) services, can reduce the severity of these problems, improve health outcomes, and reduce food insecurity. FIM services include a spectrum of interventions that provide tailored food assistance to people living with certain chronic illnesses or risk factors and that serve as a link to the health care system, typically through a referral or prescription. In New York State, existing FIM programs are limited in reach, scale, and range of services covered. However, there is growing interest from a variety of stakeholders to expand and study FIM interventions. Many commercial health plans have designed and launched their own FIM coverage models; New York State Medicaid is also taking steps. Under a pilot program, New York Medicaid has allowed health plans to pay for non-medical services like meals when medically appropriate and cost-effective. In September 2022, the State submitted a proposal to the federal government for a multibillion-dollar Medicaid demonstration waiver that would allow Medicaid to pay for social service coordination, including FIM. The Food Pantries for the Capital District (Food Pantries) FIM coalition played a lead role in advocating for the integration of FIM services into the waiver and for Medicaid to cover registered dietitian services. Groups across New York State are preparing to make the most of broader Medicaid coverage for FIM services; however, many of these organizations need better understanding of FIM best practices for launching, operating, collecting data, and demonstrating return on investment. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Food Pantries a grant to support organizations in designing and researching medically tailored grocery programs that can be scaled and reimbursed across New York State.

Under this grant, Food Pantries will launch an accelerator program to help organizations learn the operational, policy, and contracting mechanisms needed to run and scale up medically tailored grocery programs. It will recruit community-based organizations operating feeding programs across a range of populations. Food Pantries will provide organizations with technical assistance to standardize practices for implementing medically tailored grocery programs. It will train participating organizations on technology, referral systems, and security measures. Participating organizations will track the outcomes of their FIM grocery programs, including foods distributed by type, volume, and source. Health care partners will share data to help determine the effectiveness of the program models, and Food Pantries will analyze the data. Food Pantries will disseminate findings among the New York State FIM coalition, New York State government agencies, and social and health care partners.

Natural Resources Defense Council

Through agencies and institutions, New York State municipalities annually purchase and serve hundreds of millions of meals to individuals with incomes below the federal poverty level and at a higher risk of food insecurity.

 

Given their massive scale, public institutions can leverage their purchasing power to procure foods of higher nutritional value. The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) builds upon the purchasing power of institutions to improve food quality, lower costs, and support local agriculture. Adopting GFPP can encourage better food purchasing practices that align with nutrition, local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, and animal welfare. GFPP also creates opportunities for small farms and suppliers who traditionally have had less capacity to compete for institutional contracts. Cities like New York City and Buffalo are already implementing GFPP. Yet, broader statewide adoption is currently limited by State procurement policy, which requires municipalities to select the lowest-cost bidder, often neglecting factors like nutritional quality. In 2023, NYHealth awarded the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) a grant to strengthen the campaign for statewide adoption of the Good Food Purchasing Program.

 

Under this grant, NRDC will partner with Community Food Advocates and GFPP coalition partners to educate stakeholders on policy changes that would enable municipalities to choose food that might be higher priced but contains more nutritional value. NRDC will also provide legal support on State procurement policy to build upon the coalition’s knowledge of legal obstacles municipalities face when purchasing food. NRDC will educate policymakers, coalition members, and industry actors on the actual legal and on-the-ground impact of New York State adopting GFPP, including benefits for producers and suppliers.

Equity Advocates

Approximately 1 in 10 New York City residents are food insecure, and 1.4 million rely on New York City’s emergency food system.

Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are the best long-term way to address hunger; however, benefit amounts are often insufficient and families sometimes have to rely on the emergency food system. In 2022, New York City revamped the Community Food Connection, an emergency food program that offers both shelf-stable and fresh foods. Equity Advocates worked with the Westside Campaign Against Hunger, Met Council, and other partners through the New York Food Policy Alliance to educate officials on the benefits of permanently including fresh produce in the emergency food system. Together, they successfully advocated for $30 million in new funds, bringing the City’s total emergency food investment up to $52 million and allowing it to provide fresh fruits and vegetables permanently. While policy changes are crucial, the ultimate test for success will happen during implementation. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Equity Advocates a grant to lead an education and advocacy campaign to increase investment in New York City’s emergency food program, and ensure it is effectively and equitably implemented so community-based organizations and food-insecure New Yorkers have access to the high-quality food they need.

Under this grant, Equity Advocates will use its New York Food Policy Alliance, a multi-sector group of more than 75 stakeholders, to lead an education and advocacy campaign to ensure equitable implementation of and increased funding for the new Community Food Connection program. Equity Advocates will lead advocacy workshops for Alliance members and engage with and educate local leaders about the new program.

Fair Food Network

For families with low income, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, but most SNAP participants still spend more than one-third of their income on food and forgo fresh fruits and vegetables.

The resulting nutrition insecurity leads to poorer health and an increased risk of diet-related diseases. To address this need, nutrition incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks aim to encourage SNAP participants to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables by providing matching dollars, vouchers, or discounts to use at a range of retailers. Similarly, produce prescription programs—which can be filled and used at grocery stores or farmers markets—provide incentives for low-income patients with diet-related diseases to purchase fruits and vegetables. While these programs have broad support, the technology to allow seamless transactions at the point of sale (i.e., the electronic system that accepts and processes payment at the register) has proven difficult, creating frustration and perpetuating stigma. Retailers and programs need an improved point-of-sale system for processing nutrition incentives that allows cashiers to simply process benefits like a single credit card, which would increase transaction speed, streamline reporting, and reduce stigma. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Fair Food Network a grant to address technology barriers that limit the widespread adoption and redemption of nutrition incentives and produce prescription programs that support the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers.

Under this grant, Fair Food Network will build the technology requirements for a scalable and low-cost transaction technology that allows for seamless participation by both retailers and shoppers. Its lead project partner, the National Grocers Association, represents independent grocery retailers nationwide and will help mobilize industry relationships and connections. Fair Food Network will establish a stakeholder workgroup that includes Field & Fork Network, which has scaled the Double Up Food Bucks Program across the State; the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Groceries to Go produce prescription program; and other members like technology developers, grocery retail and farmers market associations, store managers, cashiers, and shoppers. The workgroup will identify clear technical requirements for efficient nutrition incentive transactions. Additionally, to make a business case for technology companies, Fair Food Network will emphasize that there is the demand from the field for this innovation and that both developers and grocers can acquire more revenue if they invest in the recommended solutions. Lastly, Fair Food Network will leverage its extensive network of industry relationships to secure investment from point-of-sale technology companies.

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