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.

Homeward Bound USA, aka Homeward Bound Adirondacks

Veterans in New York die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of civilians.

Compounding these challenges is a shortage of mental health providers equipped to treat veterans. In response, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which use approaches such as reducing access to lethal means, increasing social connectivity, and expanding access to mental health treatment. Between 2018 and 2020, suicide rates stabilized, but newly released data show warning signs that rates are increasing again. Continued and more intensive action and resources are needed to build on the momentum of successful suicide prevention efforts. To address this need, VA awarded $174 million in federal grant dollars to 250 community-based organizations to implement suicide prevention services, 5 of which are in New York State. However, these funds cannot be used for outreach and community engagement activities or to provide services to veterans who are (1) ineligible for VA care or (2) deemed anything other than “high risk” for suicide. To maximize the full potential of the federal investment, in 2022, NYHealth awarded a grant to one of the federal funding recipients, Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY (VOC), to conduct outreach to veterans in Western New York. The success of VOC’s outreach efforts led NYHealth to further invest in the remaining four New York State grantees. In 2023, NYHealth awarded a grant to Homeward Bound Adirondacks (HBA) to expand access to suicide prevention services by increasing outreach to and engagement with veterans in the North Country. NYHealth is also supporting complementary projects across New York State with Black Veterans for Social Justice, Mental Health America of Dutchess County, and the Oneida County Department of Mental Health.

Under this grant, HBA will increase outreach to identify veterans at risk of suicide—including younger veterans, women, and those ineligible for VA services—through technology, in-person events, and social media. It will also build strategic partnerships with local organizations, including county veterans service officers, local New York State suicide prevention coordinators, leaders in tribal communities, veterans service organizations, and other mental health providers. HBA will screen veterans to determine their risk for suicide, service needs, and VA eligibility, connecting them to suicide prevention services as needed. Additionally, it will provide case management services to connect veterans with community-based or VA health services and offer referrals to wraparound services. HBA will help eligible veterans access benefits such as supportive housing, GI Bill education assistance, and disability compensation. It will also share demographic and screening information with partners and disseminate reports to identify areas for improvement and promising practices that can be replicated. Lastly, the VA and State government stakeholders will partner with HBA to address challenges with lags in suicide data to evaluate success of on-the-ground efforts and assess annual reductions in suicide rates.

The Hub on the Hill (fiscal sponsor: Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation)

Throughout the North Country and other rural areas in New York State, many households live more than 10 miles from a grocery store and face transportation barriers.

Dollar and convenience stores dominate the market but lack healthy options. Food hubs are recognized as an effective model to support local, healthy food systems and fundamentally serve as intermediaries—receiving food from farmers and producers and getting paid by farmers to manage tasks like marketing, sales, and distribution. In turn, food hubs get paid by the client purchasing the food, who can efficiently deal with one centralized operation. Ten food hubs are in operation across the State, but each hub varies, depending on the unique needs of its community. Coordination among food hubs is lacking; they would benefit from enhanced communication and cooperative agreements as they grow in scale. In 2022, NYHealth awarded The Hub on the Hill, through fiscal sponsor Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation, a grant to expand the food hub serving the North Country and connect emerging food hubs across the State.

Under this grant, The Hub met growing demand from both farmers and clients and achieved greater economies of scale by improving its infrastructure and operating capacity. It developed plans for converting existing space into a receiving, storage, and packing area; upgraded its inventory system to operate more efficiently; increased its farmer and producer bases and partnerships; and cultivated existing and new producers to procure institutional-level quantities of food. The Hub prioritized the growth of its farm-to-school partnerships and Food Is Medicine projects. In addition, the Hub created and formalized a statewide network of food hubs. This work unlocked the potential for food hubs to successfully engage in broader healthy food initiatives and realize the vision for stronger local food systems.

Adirondack Health Institute, Inc.

In a state as large as New York, a steady stream of smart, innovative work is coming from NYHealth grantees and non-grantees alike that is relevant to NYHealth’s priority areas of Healthy Food, Healthy Lives and Empowering Health Care Consumers and its focus area on Veterans’ Health.

These organizations should be elevating their work and informing key stakeholders at regional, statewide, and national conferences, meetings, and other convenings. Yet, because of a lack of resources, they are often unable to do so. To address this issue, NYHealth is awarding grants through its Sponsoring Conference Participation in Support of Healthy Food, Healthy Lives; Consumer Empowerment; and Veterans’ Health Request for Proposals (RFP). Through this RFP, NYHealth is sponsoring low-resource organizations to attend and present at local, State, and national conferences related to these areas. In 2022, NYHealth awarded Adirondack Health Institute grant to participate in this initiative as part of its efforts to connect people to healthy food.

Under this grant, Adirondack Health Institute used funds to co-host the 2022 Food Justice Summit, in collaboration with the Adirondack Food Systems Network and ADK Action. The summit raised awareness of challenges and successes in the farming and food production industries. It also addressed the intersections of food justice, racial equity, health care, and education in the rural regions of the Adirondacks and North Country. The Food Justice Summit provided an opportunity for experts in the food system to discuss successful methods of connecting community members to healthy food in the regions they serve. Presentation topics included increasing collaboration among food system partners; increasing food sovereignty within under-resourced communities; addressing challenges specific to rural communities; and using technology to improve resources and tools within food systems. Attendees learned about current food system challenges and barriers specific to rural communities, and gained methods for access and production improvement, ideas for expansion, and creative approaches to improve community reach.

View a complete list of conference participation grantees.

Adirondack Health Institute, Inc.

A core strategy for improving health and food security is developing and implementing local food systems plans that reflect regional and local circumstances, strengths, and deficits.

Local food systems plans tackle issues such as: engaging health care systems to advocate for and provide healthier institutional food; starting new farmers markets and urban farms; changing zoning to allow the establishment of new supermarkets and other food access points; strengthening farm-to-school programs; expanding nutrition assistance programs; establishing or scaling local food hubs; and educating government officials and community members about what the food system is and why it is important. Most local planning groups are run by volunteers and are loosely organized. Full-time dedicated staff and organizational structure are needed to accelerate and improve the development of local food systems plans. In 2021, NYHealth awarded Adirondack Health Institute (AHI) a grant to develop a formal local healthy food plan tailored to the North Country and advocate for policy changes to make healthy, local, and affordable food more available to New Yorkers.

Under this grant, AHI formalized and expanded its regional and local food planning group and codified its food systems plan. It leveraged relationships with farms and distributors, regional community-based social service providers, and school and health care providers among nine counties to create a cohort for collective action and collaboration. These stakeholders developed a plan for meeting the needs of the region’s food-insecure residents. AHI established measurable objectives and data collection mechanisms that was used to make the case for program expansion and replication as well as ensure long-term sustainability of plans. Measures and resources was shared and compared with other local and regional food plans across the State. AHI also piloted farm-to-school and farm-to-hospital initiatives to support local farmers and connect students and individuals recently discharged from hospitals with healthy food.

NYHealth is also supporting complementary food planning initiatives with Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester Food Bank of the Southern Tier, Common Ground Health, Equity Advocates, Good Food Buffalo Coalition, and Newburgh Urban Farm and Food.

Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization

Delivering health care services in the North Country region of New York State is challenging; at least 25% of residents in rural Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties do not have a primary care provider.

Residents insured by Medicaid and/or Medicare also face barriers to access, including lack of transportation and long appointment wait times. As a result, approximately 35% of these residents have not had a primary care visit in the last year. The North Country’s rate for well-child visits for children also falls far below the State’s target. To create meaningful and effective solutions for the North Country, feedback from residents is needed, and new strategies must be implemented. In 2021, NYHealth awarded Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization (FDRHPO) a grant to develop and implement an action plan to improve access to primary care in the North Country counties of Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence.

Under this grant, FDRHPO designed and conducted focus groups with North Country residents, recruiting individuals who were insured by Medicaid and/or Medicare and who did not have a primary care provider. It also partnered with local community-based organizations and primary care provider organizations on recruitment. Residents in the region were surveyed on their primary care utilization, including experiences with a personal doctor and barriers to accessing care. The FDRHPO team and primary care partners also became certified to conduct the Bridges to Health & Healthcare training, a proven model that offers clinical staff a framework for understanding poverty and serving and communicating with low-income patients. Following the training, staff implemented the training in primary care settings. Findings from the project were synthesized to identify specific strategies for a regional action plan including outreach, patient engagement, and workflows that were more patient-centric. FDRHPO produced summary reports and hosted a virtual roundtable with primary care partners to discuss findings and an actionable implementation plan for improving primary care access.

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