NYC extension program matches small food producers with community organizations


A Brooklyn church received a bountiful harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables this past Thanksgiving courtesy of a Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City (CUCE-NYC) program called MarketMaker that links nearly 2,000 small food producers with such potential buyers as individuals, restaurants and institutions.

MarketMaker is a database system developed by the University of Illinois in 2005. Currently in use by land-grant universities in 23 states, it has been used successfully by CUCE-NYC since 2007. The MarketMaker gets more than 150,000 hits each month. CUCE-NYC, which administers MarketMaker in New York, also conducts trainings about its use throughout the state. Economic development education programs focused on the upstate agriculture community teach producers how to maximize MarketMaker\’s potential.

New York MarketMaker also cements working partnerships between Cornell and community organizations. When Calvin Harrison, pastor of the Cornerstone Seventh-day Adventist Church, needed a large amount of produce for his congregation\’s annual community Thanksgiving meal, he was able to use MarketMaker to make contact with registered upstate growers.

The J. Glebocki Farm in Goshen, N.Y., responded promptly that they could supply and deliver the hundreds of pounds each of broccoli, kale, cabbage, carrots, collard green, spinach, string beans, winter squash, pumpkins, onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, potatoes and apples that Harrison required.

Farm manager Matt Lewis said that his farm could not have made this connection without CUCE-NYC that laid the groundwork. And he\’s enthusiastic about the possibilities for supplying more organizations like this.

Khin Mar Cho, a specialist for international agriculture, food and nutrition education at CUCE-NYC, said that Harrison\’s congregation was \”thrilled to get such beautiful produce direct from a farm\” and that they now want to buy regularly. In addition to the annual Thanksgiving meal, Harrison\’s operation in Brooklyn also serves about 300 dinners every Sunday and has 250 food pantry participants.

Cho noted that about a dozen churches have opted to participate in bimonthly deliveries from registered MarketMaker producers. Facilitating food deliveries from upstate to the city highlights a successful expansion of CUCE-NYC\’s nutrition education programs, according to CUCE-NYC Executive Director Donald Tobias.

CUCE-NYC has a long history of nutrition education in partnership with faith-based organizations and other community groups, according to Tobias. Teaching cooks and other staff members about food safety and how to incorporate fresh whole foods into their menus benefit the entire community.

He said the last six months have been spent developing an even wider network of organizations that run large food programs. Families, individuals and school groups who want to learn how to eat better, shop smarter and save money can also benefit from CUCE-NYC nutrition education programs.

Tobias said that in this economy, people sometimes line up five hours before food pantries open. CUCE-NYC nutrition educators roll carts up and down the lines, showing people how to prepare fresh foods that they will be given that day and with which they may be unfamiliar. These \”lessons in a box\” are designed to generate interest in eight-week nutrition education courses. A quick lesson on preparing an unfamiliar food can encourage enrollment in a full length CUCE-NYC series on how to plan and prepare more healthy meals at home, he added.

CUCE-NYC\’s ability to deliver targeted education programs is a result of strong partnerships in both downstate urban and upstate agricultural communities. These connections, coupled with close ties to land-grant university resources and a deep understanding of the food system, uniquely position CUCE-NYC to meet and adapt to the real-time needs of New Yorkers.