Food Connections Grant Aids Farmers, Underserved Consumers

April 12, 2015

By Susan Chiappone, Buffalo News

JAMESTOWN- Growing Food Connections, an initiative designed to strengthen local food systems and help under-served residents and farmers, is taking root in Chautauqua County.

County Executive Vince Horrigan joined Growing Food Connections team members and partners last week to announce the kickoff of the project, which is funded through a five-year, $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its National Institute of Food and Agriculture Food System’s Program.

The goal is to help local governments forge policies, plans, partnerships and public investment to enhance food security and bridge the gap between food growers and those who need it. Chautauqua County and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County are leading the initiative, with assistance from the Chautauqua County Health Network and Jamestown Renaissance Corp.

Designated a Community of Opportunity, the county will receive customized assistance and training over a two-year period and serve as a model for other communities nationwide facing similar challenges.

“Chautauqua County was selected as a Community of Opportunity not only because of our need for change, but also because of our potential to change,” said Shelly Wells, project coordinator for Creating Healthy Places with the Chautauqua County Health Network.

The largely rural county has a population of 133,539 and a poverty rate of 18.8 percent – ranking it among the poorest counties in New York State.

“Chautauqua County has more farms than any other county in New York and a significant number of residents who lack regular access to fresh food,” said Peter Lombardi, deputy director of Jamestown Renaissance Corp., the public-private partnership tasked with revitalizing downtown Jamestown and its neighborhoods.

The initiative is led by the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo, in partnership with American Farmland Trust, Cultivating Healthy Places and the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University.