BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Last April, as COVID-19 numbers were climbing, New York state announced it would buy surplus milk and other goods from farmers - like Kelly Reynolds through the Nourish NY Initiative.
"Even though right at the height of the pandemic there was some concerns about where our milk would be going - because a lot of it goes to restaurants and schools - but our milk actually was able to continue to be shipped,” said Kelly Reynolds of Reyncrest Farms.
It was a welcome pandemic surprise for her.
“Some other farms in our cooperative did have to dump milk but we were fortunate that we did not have to," she said.
Now, the state has committed $25 million to keep the program going.
"It's a really good feeling that milk is still able to go from our farm to someone else's table," said Reynolds. "Our cooperative Upstate Niagara Farms, they sent over 15 truckloads of milk and other dairy products to food banks across Western New York."
State Senator George Borrello said the Initiative provided food to more than one million households during the pandemic.
It’s an opportunity to feed families in need while also helping farmers.
"The idea was to take so much surplus agricultural products, and then we saw this devastating impact when you had farmers dumping milk and leaving their crops in the field to rot because their markets had been displaced," he said.
At the same time, more people were turning to food banks for help because of the pandemic, and it's a need that continues today.
According to Feedmore Western New York, they provided 16 million meals to communities in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties.
That's four million more meals in 2020 than in 2019. They're also expecting the increased need for food assistance last for the next 3 to 5 years.
Senator Borello introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a permanent program that would connect surplus farm products with New York’s food banks.
As of December, Nourish NY has helped more than 4,000 farms, and distributed more than 17 million pounds of food.