A cooperative of eight dairy farms in Livingston, Wyoming and Genesee counties, the creamery had been formed one year earlier to address the financial toll several years’ worth of low milk prices had taken on farmers. Chris Noble, Craigs’ operations manager, told the Catholic Courier that expanded marketing of its products — particularly cheeses — through such initiatives as gift boxes, an increased retail presence and an online store were well-received during the cooperative’s first year.
However, emergence of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020 undermined many of the creamery’s gains with consumers. Noble said that Craigs Creamery lost 40 percent of its food-service sales early in the pandemic when many clients, such as restaurants and schools, were forced to close suddenly due to government lockdown restrictions. Due to the diminished market for the cooperative’s products, some Craigs Creamery farms ended up dumping fresh milk. According to published reports in the spring of 2020, the Dairy Farmers of America estimated that as much as 3.7 million gallons were being dumped nationwide.
Fortunately for Noble and thousands of other farmers across New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the inception of Nourish New York, an initiative begun May 1, 2020, that provides funding to emergency-food providers — mainly food banks — enabling them to buy dairy, produce and meats directly from area farmers, food manufacturers and the fishing community. The purchased goods are funneled to residents who are food insecure, including many who suffered job loss due to the pandemic. Nourish New York made it possible for farmers to sell more of their products and for consumers to have greater access to fresh local foods.
Noble noted that products sold by Craigs Creamery previously “weren’t really positioned for food banks” due to the cooperative’s focus on the retail industry. However, he said that once his farm coalition aligned with Nourish New York, “we sold about 75 percent of our Craigs Creamery products to food banks.” He added that the creamery works with food banks throughout the state, most prominently Foodlink in Rochester and FeedMore WNY in Buffalo.
Craigs Creamery is among more than 4,000 farms statewide to participate in Nourish New York thus far — a number that should grow thanks to extension of the program earlier this year. Funding for the first two phases of Nourish New York totaled $35 million, but the initiative originally was slated to end Dec. 31, 2020. Through the annual Public Policy Weekend, Feb. 13-14 this year, the Diocesan Public Policy Committee and parishes throughout the diocese successfully campaigned for a $50-million extension of the initiative in the state’s current fiscal year, which began April 1.
Cuomo announced a $25 million addition in early March, and another $25 million was included in the final state budget one month later. Noble said he kept close track of the budget discussions and was glad about continuation of Nourish New York , which he said would provide Craigs Creamery with an ongoing outlet for its products while its retail business continues bouncing back from the pandemic.
Daniel Egan, executive director of Feeding New York State — a coalition representing all 10 food banks statewide — is advocating for an additional $50 million in Nourish New York funding during the 2021-22 fiscal year and for the initiative to become permanent.
Egan stressed that better strategies must be developed so that food produced in New York gets to people who need it rather than go to waste — an issue, he said, that’s existed for many years across the United States.
“We have mountains of food. Forty percent of the food created in this country is thrown away,” Egan noted.