Press Release: Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation Launches Five-Year Project to Improve Access to Healthy Food in Columbia County

(July 19, 2016) Sheffield, Mass. — Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation today announced the launch of Fresh and Healthy Food for All, a five-year, $750,000 initiative to increase access to healthy food among low-income families and the elderly in Columbia County, New York. 

A first of its kind and scope in Columbia County, the initiative is funded by two anonymous donors and designed to transform the food system over time for the benefit of all residents.

“Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation has been proud to support healthy food projects for decades through grants from our area funds, education enrichment funds and generous individual donors,” said Peter Taylor, president of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. “This initiative will serve as a significant new resource for collaborative projects and innovative thinking that can help close Columbia County’s healthy food gap.”

Advised by the Community

The initiative was developed after careful consultation with over 80 local community members involved in food-related industries across Columbia County—including farms, food pantries, distributors, food retailers, restauranteurs, community-based organizations, schools and county agencies. 

After commissioning a countywide scan of healthy food access, Berkshire Taconic engaged community members in a planning and assessment process to identify opportunities to meet immediate and long-term food needs and develop a grants program to fund collaborative pilot projects.

A committee made up of foundation staff, donors and local residents reviewed the applications to make funding decisions. 

“Agriculture in our region is increasingly an economic driver through tourism, food production, farm-to-table and related small businesses, but we must ensure that fresh, local, nutritious food is accessible to all our residents,” said New York State Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106), who attended the stakeholder meetings. “This initiative will make a true difference for seniors, working families and others in our region struggling to make ends meet."

Grantmaking Now & in the Future

Funding for a first year of pilot projects totals $150,000, with renewal funding available to successful grantees in the second year and additional funding available in year two for new projects. The following programs were awarded first-year funding:

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Sylvia Center and Hawthorne Valley Association will collaborate with and learn from one another and the larger community as they move forward on these projects over the next year.

An additional $25,000 will be made available for capacity-building support at food pantries and food banks serving the county’s rural communities to help promote their engagement in the initiative. 

“We consider access to healthy food a basic right and will leverage our social and economic relationships to develop collaborative, locally driven strategies for change,” said Martin Ping, executive director of Hawthorne Valley Association. “We are eager to bring immediate help to food insecure communities and to develop a self-sustaining and vibrant food system for the county.”

“Learning to cook is the only way for low-income young people and families to eat healthy food regularly,” said Anna Hammond, executive director of the Sylvia Center. “Through community partnerships that will expand our reach, we aim to reduce hunger and help more families develop cooking skills and healthy eating habits, while avoiding waste in local food production through vital gleaning programs.” 

The Project in Context

About one-quarter of the land in Columbia County is dedicated to agricultural production, a number that has declined by 11% over the last five years on record. The market value of the county’s agricultural products is estimated at over $66 million per year, largely from the sale of milk, fruits and vegetables, and nursery items.

Over the last decade, the number of grocery stores in the county has shrunk by nearly one-fifth. Due to store closures and a lack of reliable transportation, approximately 15% of the population is without ready access to a supermarket. At the same time, the food sector has increasingly shifted to serve the demands of seasonal residents, weekenders and tourists.

One in 10 of the county’s estimated 62,000-plus residents live in poverty and about 13% are food insecure, or lacking sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food. One-third of those struggling to avoid hunger are seniors and children. Half of the county’s public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The geography of poverty in the county is varied. More than half of households in Hudson are living below 200% of the federal poverty level, or $48,600 for a family of four, an income level often considered “near poor” or “working poor.” Communities in which 25-50% of households are living at this level are scattered elsewhere throughout the county (Figure 1). Hudson has the county’s highest concentration of seniors living in poverty, while the percentage of children under 18 living in poverty is highest in Hudson and towns in the southeast (Figure 2).

Berkshire Taconic’s Commitment

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation has long provided community leadership and grantmaking support to address urgent regional priorities, including early childhood development, affordable housing and nonprofit capacity-building. 

It offers donors a variety of ways to get involved, including donor advised funds, scholarship funds and field of interest funds that—like the fund established for this initiative—support specific areas of community life. 

“Our partnerships with donors and engagement with communities are essential ingredients for identifying solutions to our regional challenges together,” said Taylor. “With healthy food for all as our goal, we hope to engage the philanthropic community to help capitalize on Columbia County’s vital agriculture sector for the benefit of every resident.”







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