Where it Grows, Where it Goes...
MOHONK – As part of the Mohonk Consultation series of meetings, the conference room at Mohonk Mountain House was host to a day long series of panel discussions and presentations on and around the topic of "Achieving Local Food Security" this past Monday.
The morning sessions saw a presentation on challenges for Hudson Valley agri-business, including a panel on current farmers' experiences, as well as a new Scenic Hudson strategic plan to conserve the Hudson Valley "foodshed."
Among the key points there, Scenic Hudson's Steve Rosenberg stressed an estimated $866 million in unmet demand for regionally produced food in New York City in comparison to the state losing farmland at an alarming rate, adding up to some half a million acres to subdivisions, strip malls and sprawl over the past 25 years. Of the 730,389 acres of significant farmland in the 11 county Hudson Valley foodshed, he added, only 11 percent, or 81,430 acres, has been conserved to this date. The rest remains at risk.
Scenic Hudson is working on ways to raise money and use programs like New York State's Farmland Protection Program to conserve farm properties.
Kathleen Frith, president of the Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, and Jerry Cosgrove, associate director of the Local Economies Project, which recently opened the new Farm Hub along Route 209 in Hurley, spoke of the work that those two organizations are doing. Both are engaged in opening up training and education opportunities for young farmers.
Frith focused on three current projects. As part of Glynwood's Apple Project, designed to assist apple orchards in the Hudson Valley, they have worked on a hard cider promotion built around Cider Week, beginning with the Finger Lakes in early October, then New York City at the end of October and now currently in the Hudson Valley. She pointed out how Americans have finally discovered — or re-discovered — so-called "hard cider," a brew fermented to levels of alcohol similar to beer. Frith noted that artisanal cider production was a good fit with current Hudson Valley orchard farming and that New York City was a large market with tremendous upside for craft ciders.
She also discussed an analysis of livestock production in the Hudson Valley, delving into issues such as slaughter and processing. Finally she mentioned training for food professionals, chefs and others in terms of locally produced foods and products. Glynwood is using 330 acres of farm property (part of an 800 acre parcel owned by Open Space Institute) in New Paltz as a farm incubator, a concept aimed at those with two years experience in farming who want to receive training and business education related to farming and marketing.
Cosgrove spoke about the Hudson Valley Farm Hub now setting up on the former Gill's farm, noting that having John Gill agree to stay on as farming consultant has been a huge benefit to the project.
Among the questions that came from the room was one concerning farm labor. Both speakers acknowledged how important this was but pointed out that no real answers exist at this point to address the need for workers at harvest time. Frith did mention that there is a huge unmet demand for "agricultural experiential tourism" in which urban people can actually experience farming life. Glynwood is examining this area.
A panel then discussed how markets for locally grown food and high value agricultural products can be expanded. There are large cities — beginning with the largest in the country, New York — close by, all agreed, representing a logical area for market expansion.