During a recent house renovation I found a 1948 issue of the Knickerbocker News stuffed into the wall as insulation. The headline made me laugh: GOP Brings Tax Issues Into Congressional Row Over Inflation. Some things never change, I thought, as I carefully turned the brittle pages. But as I got into the interior I realized that some things have changed a lot. This was a city newspaper that covered the region. I was amazed to see the way farm coverage was intimately linked with all phases of life. Even the Altamont Enterprise has very little farm reporting these days, I realized. How do we know what the issues are if we don’t read about them
I’d be the first to admit that I’m not generally excited by Republican legislative proposals but the NYS Senate Republicans have just launched a package of initiatives that, on its face, deserves all of our support. The Young Farmers NY initiative will provide $30 million including tax credits, loans and funding for agricultural efforts. According to the Schenectady Gazette, the state has lost about 50,000 acres of farmland in each of the last five years. The average age of NY farmers is 57. The goal of the initiative is to make it easier to transfer farmland to the next generation and preserve existing farmland in the state. Link to article.
According to the Associated Press — and also from the Schenectady Gazette: New York State wants to make farmers' markets more accessible to low-income consumers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state will make $130,000 in grants available this year to support at least 13 traditional farmers' market and youth market grant projects. Individual grants up to $10,000 will go to applicants with the best ideas on how to improve access to farmers' markets participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as food stamps. The money comes from the "FreshConnect" Farmers' Market program, which promotes the sale of locally-grown food. Link to article.
A new grant to the American Farmland Trust/New York will help small local farmers connect with institutional buyers. This is important because 83% of fruit, vegetable, and dairy products are grown on land near cities that is directly in the path of sprawling development. These small family farms contribute to the local economy, preserve agricultural diversity, and can allow us to reconnect our lives with the land. With billions of farm bill dollars going to GMO corn, soybean, and wheat production, consumers can break the cycle and buy directly from local farms — at farm stands, CSAs, the co-op, or at farmers markets.
Unfortunately, according to Bernard Melewski, of Black Creek Farm CSA, “It’s very difficult for a small diversified organic vegetable CSA to become more than a hobby.” He was excited to tell me about the project, which he believes holds promise for small producers. The Farm to Institution New York State Partnership (they need a better name!) was launched in February to connect small local farmers to institutional buyers. Funded by the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation, FINYS will create a virtual farmers market to match up universities in the SUNY system, senior centers, and other nutritional outlets with produce from small local farms. “I need to provide a diverse food basket for my CSA shares but that often means that I end up over-producing one crop or another. This virtual market will give me an outlet for those items. I’m also looking forward to targeting certain high-margin crops for this market,” said Melewski.
Without solid infrastructure linking farmers to markets, the local food movement will always be a luxury for those with money and time. Projects like these provide meaningful connections between farmers and institutional consumers and promise to bring organic locally sourced food into the mainstream once again. Link to press release.