The Pride of New York program is being dealt a financial blow, but staff is confident that better and more creative marketing techniques will come out of the resulting changes.

“We are at the mercy of the budget gods these days,” said Bill Kimball, director of the Division of Agricultural Protection and Development Services for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Although Kimball said the budget was not yet final as of early July, he was planning for less than $500,000 in state funds, which represents a cut of about 50%.

Gone are the days of the nearly $1-million state funding that funded expensive television commercials, radio ads and billboards. Instead, Pride of New York is focusing its resources on working with individual distributors and institutions. Kimball said they’ve had particularly good luck with school food service distributors such as Sodexho Inc. and Chartwells.

“We’re having good success with these companies wanting to feature local products on their menus,” he said.

Phil Bibbo, marketing specialist for the Pride of New York program, continues to work one-on-one with supermarket buyers to help them source local products. The program continues to do marketing events and to support retailers with point-of-sales material upon request.

Jessica Chittenden, director of communications for the agriculture department, said up to 20 retailers are expected to participate this year with the Pride of New York program. Last year, 13 participated.

Some good news

The Pride of New York program continues to work with national and regional distributors to encourage them to “Buy local. Buy Pride of New York.” Sysco Food Services of Syracuse LLC represents a recent success story, Kimball said. It is now distributing Pride of New York-labeled products. Although Sysco likely carried New York-produced items in the past, the company is now intentionally marketing items as Pride of New York products.

“They’ve actually trained staff to identify Pride of New York categories of produce,” Kimball said.

Within the past month, “Pride of New York” became a category on the Syracuse division’s order form, Kimball said.

Kimball also said the state continues to participate in the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs, which is associated with the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. WIC provides vouchers for fruits and vegetables, and New York enabled them to be used to buy from certified growers at farmers markets. Kimball said the program should make about $30 million available to be spent in the state.

“We want to get a piece of it for New York producers,” Kimball said.

Kimball said the state is working on ways to help WIC voucher holders easily identify New York-produced items in supermarkets.

Supporting organic

Other state initiatives support organic production. The state reimburses qualifying organic producers and processors for 75% of their annual organic certification costs up to $750, Chittenden said. This year, the state has $450,000 in federal funds available, with 150 applications submitted by early July.

In 2008, about 500 organic producers received reimbursements.

One of the biggest hurdles in transitioning from conventional to organic production is finding a good source of information on production, Chittenden said. Therefore, in cooperation with Cornell University and Cooperative Extension, and the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, the department of agriculture’s Organic Development and Assistance Program in June published new organic vegetable growing guides.

The four guides offer information specific to New York production of organic snap beans, carrots, cucumbers and winter squash, and peas, Chittenden said. Twelve more are expected to be published for the next growing season.