October 5, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203
New York Kids Celebrate New York Farms
Assemblyman Joins Brooklyn School and Children at Union Square Farmers' Market to Celebrate New York Harvest for New York Kids Week

(Brooklyn, NY) - Every day school cafeterias in New York State serve nearly 2 million lunches and breakfasts. Unfortunately, besides the carton of milk, not much of the food served in the cafeterias comes from local farms. Many children and their families are unfamiliar with the bounty of agricultural riches available from local farms. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, would like to change that and is pleased to join children at the Brooklyn School For Special Children and at Union Square Greenmarket who are celebrating the sixth annual New York Harvest For New York Kids Week, which was developed by Ortiz' Task Force. After the terrible events at the World Trade Center, including the financial losses suffered by farmers and the Greenmarket located at the WTC and in other locations in lower Manhattan, Assemblyman Ortiz encourages New Yorkers to shop frequently at farmers' markets and visit nearby farms.

Ortiz believes that to help reverse the trend of declining farms in the State, and at the same time provide New York's school population with good nutrition, we need to encourage schools, children, and their families to buy and consume more New York-grown food products. "Since I became the Chair of the Assembly's Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy in January I have had the opportunity to meet many farmers, business owners, educators, and nutritionists and I welcome all of them to work with me to meet the goals for this week: improving education, nutrition, New York agriculture and the local economy."

Celebrating New York Harvest for New York Kids Week can help educate and inspire school children and their families to eat more New York-grown foods as part of a program to improve their diets; provide linkages between schools and local agriculture, both in the classroom and through visits to farms or farmers' markets; and, encourage school foodservice programs to incorporate and feature New York foods in school lunch and breakfast menus. Urban, suburban, and even rural children need to learn more about farming and local foods because so few of our families have any connection to the land anymore.

Over 1400 school foodservice directors around the State have received a mailing encouraging them to participate in Harvest Week and increase use of local foods year-round. Nearly 600 organizations and individuals involved in nutrition, agriculture and education were also contacted and urged to develop activities in their schools and communities.

New York State school meal programs serve meals with an annual value over $500 million. This is a huge potential market for New York farm products. Over 600 schools' districts that were recently surveyed reported using hundreds of thousands of cases of apples, cider, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and shredded cabbage, all goods that are commonly grown and produced in New York.

According to Ortiz, "In addition to New York Harvest Week I developed legislation (A.7684) to get the Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Education Department to help local schools and farmers find each other. With this program a State website could be created where school foodservice directors and marketers of New York farm products could easily identify sellers, buyers and available products. Increasing school purchases of New York produced food would help improve the bottom line of New York farmers at a time when the loss of farmers and farmland continues to accelerate because of low profits in agriculture."

Ortiz added, "The timing for these efforts is right. More and more consumers, chefs, and food writers are extolling the virtues of local farm products for quality, safety and nutrition. Buying local foods maintains farms and open space, which helps protect our natural resources, for example the New York City watershed. Increased use of local fruit and vegetables could also help address another problem I am working on, the epidemic of childhood obesity. New York State government should make every possible effort to maximize the use of government funding for school meals to purchase nutritious, locally produced foods to benefit the health of students, our local economies and environment and provide new opportunities for Upstate and Downstate, city and rural residents to support each other."

Assemblyman Ortiz looks forward to the Governor's support for his bill, which has passed both houses of the legislature.

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