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Photo courtesy of AdkAction

Pictured are Sawyer Bailey of AdkAction, Vicki Standiford of ADK Trading Post, Ben Strader of Blue Mountain Center, and Ryan Felder of Hamilton Helps, a project of Blue Mountain Center.

By Kristina Hartzell

For the Express

Hamilton Helps, a project of Blue Mountain Center; Hamilton County Public Health; and AdkAction are working in partnership on a new food security initiative in the Adirondacks’ most sparsely populated county. The Hamilton County Food Connections collaboration gives participating residents at or near the poverty line increased choice and food purchasing power through an easy payment experience that doesn’t call attention to their participation in the program.

“Everyone should be able to eat whole fresh food no matter where they live or how much they earn,” said Sawyer Bailey, Executive Director of AdkAction. “Although AdkAction has worked to increase access to locally-grown food in Essex, Clinton, and Franklin Counties since 2017, we recognize that access in Hamilton County is unique due to the lack of farms and limited number of grocery stores. After considering the region’s local goals, assets, and voiced-needs together with our partners, we designed a program that is both for and by Hamilton County.”

Building on a three-year successful program designed by Hamilton Helps, Hamilton County Food Connections will continue to provide paper vouchers to increase the purchasing ability for lower-budget households for fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy, and value-added products at Hamilton County farmers markets. But this year, voucher amounts have increased to make a bigger difference to area families.

“We’re really excited about the growth we’ve been able to achieve this year with the program – both with the voucher amounts and our partnerships with Hamilton County Public Health, AdkAction, and Colgate University,” shared Ryan Felder of Hamilton Helps. “It’s our hope that this will not only make a larger difference to Hamilton County residents but our expanded capacity via partnerships will draw greater attention to food insecurity in our community while  greatly strengthening our work in making food more accessible.”

Thirty of those participants also received swipe cards that can be used exclusively at participating local grocery stores in the county, including the Adirondack One Stop in Indian Lake, Kalil’s Grocery in Inlet, Charlie John’s in Speculator, and the ADK Trading Post in Long Lake. The cards, which were first piloted by AdkAction’s Fair Food Program, are being reloaded monthly with funds that can be spent on food locally during and beyond the farmers market season. These funds will help families to support the small local grocery stores that sustain their rural communities while ensuring they can access the staple foods they need.

“The ADK Trading Post has always wanted to participate in a program like this, but the equipment needed for other programs made it cost prohibitive for us,” said Vichie Sandiford, owner of ADK Trading Post. “The discretion in this program is perfect, and we are excited to participate year round.”

Early this summer, Hamilton County Public Health identified and enrolled families whose needs were not being fully met by WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) alone, and who could use additional resources for local food access, as part of their mission to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases and obesity through education and interventions to promote improved nutrition.

“Our WIC families will now have access to fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and at our local grocery stores without the traveling expense,” said Margie Sanders of  Hamilton County Public Health, whose mission includes helping families expand their nutrition knowledge to make healthy choices and lower their risk of diet-related disease.

“All of our WIC families are very excited, happy, and appreciative of the help they will receive with these programs,” said Sanders. “There are many items that WIC cannot offer them, but the cards and vouchers will fill those gaps for our families. We are all connecting and working together to benefit everyone from our families, to our local businesses, and to our farmers.”  

Support for this program was provided by the Adirondack Foundation’s Generous Acts Grant Program, the Hudson Headwaters Upstream Fund, and The Prospect Hill Foundation.

“By addressing the needs of our neighbors from multiple directions, Hamilton County Food Connections is helping to strengthen the Adirondacks’ most rural communities,” said Jennifer Russell, VP of Grants and Program at Adirondack Foundation. “Participants get increased access to nutritious food, and local businesses benefit by increasing their year-round customer base. We are proud to be working with other Foundations addressing food security.”

“We are pleased to support AdkAction through the Upstream Fund,” said Jackie Villano, Hudson Headwaters’ director of development. “Caring for the health of our region is a team effort, with many needs occurring outside the exam room walls. We are thankful for our partnership with the Adirondack Foundation and our generous donors who help make this funding possible. Together, we are empowering nonprofits to lead critical efforts in our community.”

“Partnerships to support ADK businesses, farms and families are a win-win for everyone; no one should have to experience economic or food insecurity,” said Carrie S. Elston, President, The Prospect Hill Foundation. “We commend AdkAction, Blue Mountain Center, Hamilton Public Health Agency and everyone involved with this important project to support families in Hamilton County.”

The first year of the expanded Hamilton County Food Connections program will run from July 2023 through June 2024.

AdkAction is a member-supported nonprofit organization whose mission is to create projects that address unmet needs, promote vibrant communities, and preserve the natural beauty of the Adirondacks for all. Learn more at www.AdkAction.org

Hamilton Helps is a local initiative focused on collaborating with Hamilton County and Indian Lake departments, agencies, community leaders, and neighbors to create opportunities for partnership to best support one another as we endure and recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our purpose is to work together to share resources, strengthen our local resiliency, and build capacity in our community now and later.

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