Albany, NY - July 13, 2015 - Governor Cuomo announced that more than $350,000 is available to help low-income families and veterans participate in the FreshConnect Checks Program, which increases the purchasing power of food stamps used at participating farmers markets. More than 84,000 checks have already been issued to 152 sites across the state to help eligible New Yorkers access healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables. As the season progresses, additional checks will be issued reaching even more consumers than last year and providing a boost to the agriculture industry.
The program has also been extended to operate year-round at participating farmers’ markets, providing the opportunity to use checks 12 months a year. A full list and map of participating venues can be found here.
“The FreshConnect Program allows New Yorkers in need to access locally grown fruits and vegetables, and this year we’re going above and beyond to help people eat healthy,” Governor Cuomo said. “By increasing the amount of funding available and adding year-round partners to the program, we are promoting healthier habits and making a difference in communities across the state.”
The FreshConnect Checks program encourages recipients to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at participating farmers’ markets. The checks provide $2 incentive checks for every $5 in food stamps spent, increasing the purchasing power of SNAP consumers by 40 percent. In 2014, more than $3.2 million in SNAP sales occurred at farmers' markets throughout the state.
Following the pilot program in 2014, $60,000 in FreshConnect Checks will again be available to Veterans, Servicemembers, and their immediate family members at New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs offices, on a first-come, first-served basis. Office locations are located on the FreshConnect website.
The Division of Veterans' Affairs will also be bringing checks to a variety of outreach events throughout New York State. This is a new initiative this year to bring the checks directly to eligible recipients. Communities interested in having a State Veterans Counselor distribute FreshConnect checks at an outreach event are asked to call 518-474-6114.
In addition, $50,000 will develop and implement the Market Manager Certification Program, a new initiative of the FreshConnect Program that will launch this fall. The Farmers’ Market Federation of New York, SUNY Cobleskill and Cornell Cooperative Extension will partner to present an intensive, three-day training session in the coming months and develop online training modules for future market managers.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “The FreshConnect program first launched five years ago as part of the Governor’s efforts to invest in the state’s agriculture industry. Every year, the program has grown as the local food movement continues to grow. This year, we’re seeing an increased number of checks being distributed and an extended season to use them, which is benefiting both consumers looking for healthy alternatives and farmers expanding their reach into new markets.”
New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs Director, Eric Hesse said, "The Division of Veterans' Affairs is proud to partner with the Department of Agriculture and Markets for the second consecutive year on this important initiative. Providing this benefit for Veterans and their families, and expanding the program this year to include active duty Servicemembers and their families is a way that New York State can thank these men and women for their service. We look forward to giving these checks to them at our offices and at outreach events around the state."
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Samuel D. Roberts said, “It's great news that the FreshConnect Checks Program has been extended year-round at some farmers markets. That means SNAP recipients can increase their benefits and have access to fresh produce all year."
Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, “FreshConnect's healthy food options will enrich the lives of low-income families and veterans and the Market Manager Certification Program will improve the ability of farmers’ markets to promote participating vendors. Programs like FreshConnect and the Market Manager Certification help local farmers continue to grow their businesses in New York State.”
Farmers’ Market Federation of New York Executive Director Diane Eggert said, “The FreshConnect Program, dedicated to the growth and support of farmers markets, is helping to establish professional management for farmers markets. The program will teach best practices for farmers’ market management, and tactics and techniques for expanding farmers markets. Certified managers will be in a position to leverage additional support for the market and ensure its overall success.”
Director of the Office of Professional and Continuing Education at SUNY Cobleskill Anita Wright said, “We look forward to hosting the three-day training to provide farm market managers with the skills needed to manage and grow successful farmers’ markets in New York State. Knowledge gleaned from the campus-supported online farmers’ market Schoharie Fresh will be used to inform a workshop presented by Dr. Jason Evans, a faculty member at SUNY Cobleskill. Faculty and students from the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources will have an opportunity to participate in workshops which connect farm managers to industry experts and marketing professionals, accentuating SUNY Cobleskill’s mission of Real Life – Real Learning.”
Agricultural Economic Development Specialist Laura Biasillo of the Broome County Cornell Cooperative Extension said, “This unprecedented professional development opportunity for farmers market managers across New York State will position them to both become more well equipped to address rules and regulations related to food safety, as well as become more professional in their operations, learn to partner more effectively in their community to drive farmer sales. This will decrease turnover and increase the sustainability of farmers markets across the state.”
FreshConnect-funded projects aim to ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of income, have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are encouraged to accept other nutrition incentives, such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Fruit & Vegetable Checks, Farmers' Market Nutrition Program checks, and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition checks.