JAMESTOWN – Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan joined Growing Food Connections team members and partners Thursday to announce the kick-off of the Growing Food Connections initiative in Chautauqua County.
The Growing Food Connections (GFC) initiative is funded through a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)/ National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Food System’s Program. The initiative is designed to help local governments create plans, policies, partnerships, and public investments that will strengthen their food systems and better support underserved residents and farmers.
In February, Chautauqua County was named as a Community of Opportunity (COO) in the GFC initiative, which made it one of eight communities across the nation and the only community in New York State to participate in the program.
A representative from GFC said the county was selected for the program based on need, desire and readiness for change. The county has been rated as one of the unhealthiest counties in New York State – meaning residents here are more likely to be overweight, smokers, and engage in other lifestyle habits that have a negative impact on overall health.
Chautauqua County has a poverty rate of 18.8%, which ranks it amongst the poorest counties in New York State with high rates of adult overweight/obesity (62%), low daily consumption of fruits/vegetables (25%), and school districts qualifying for free/reduced lunches (94%).
Officials say Chautauqua County was selected as a Community of Opportunity not only because of the need for change, but also because of the potential to change. Currently, the County has 1,500 farms, with more than 100 farms that are able to sell their product directly to consumers.
During the next three years as a participant in the COO program, GFC officials will help the county create its own plans, policies, partnerships and make public investment to support family farmers and enhance food security. The county will also serve as models for other communities nationwide that face similar challenges.
A steering committee was appointed by Horrigan and it will help guide the GFC project in Chautauqua County. The committee will be responsible for building strong collaborations, providing insights to local coordinators to ensure combined efforts help communities succeed in strengthening their food systems, and ensuring the work is sustained beyond the life of the GFC initiative.