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Young farmers head effort to feed those in need

Veronica Volk
Sharon Smith, executive director of the Food Bank Association of New York state, accepts a donation from Nicole Rawleigh and the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.

Farmers and agriculture industry leaders are coming in from all over the state for the New York Farm Bureau’s 58th State Annual Meeting.

The Bureau kicked off its meeting by announcing they had broken their record for this year’s “Harvest for All,” a national farm donation program. In partnership with the Regional Food Bank Association and FoodLink, New York farmers have collectively donated 9.6 million pounds of produce.

FoodLink's Co-Executive Director Jeanette Batiste-Harrison says this particular program is especially valuable to the community.

"We've made an effort to not just make sure that they have enough food but to make sure that they have healthy food," Batiste-Harrison said.

The Farm Bureau's President Dean Norton says while they did break last year's record, they haven't yet reached their goal.

"We're hoping to announce by the end of the year that we've made the 10 million pound mark from food that's donated from New York farmers to those of us that are at need," Norton said.

The donation program was spearheaded by the state Young Farmer and Rancher Committee. Millennials aren't usually associated with agriculture, but that's something Nicole Rawleigh would like to change.

"We aren't what maybe the public thinks of as typical farmers, so when they see young people out farming, it gives it a different perspective and we’re able to relate to the public," Rawleigh explained.

Rawleigh is the chair of the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. She says young people better known for their tech skills will become invaluable to the future of the industry, as challenges like less available land and labor increase the need for efficiency. She also says she’s seen young farmers bring an especially charitable spirit to farming, through community outreach, education, and programs like "Harvest for All."

Bureau President Norton says he’s proud of the young farmers’ enthusiasm.

"They enjoy this opportunity to do this every year," Norton said. "It's not something that they dread, they enjoy the opportunity to get out and help the underserved."