An active ag community stresses ‘shop local’ ideal
HARLEM VALLEY — Throughout the summer, several events have taken place in the Harlem Valley to promote agriculture and localization — a movement that encourages people to consume local products instead of items that were built, created, grown or otherwise originated in another location.
Since farming and agriculture are such important aspects of the local culture and economy, many organizations have also taken up the cause to increase the public’s awareness about agricultural issues.
Some organizations, like the FFA, 4-H, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and county fairs, have promoted these causes since their inception, and a recent revitalization of interest has given a new breath of life to the localized agriculture movement.
On Saturday, July 30, the Copake Country Club Golf Course hosted the Friends of the Farmer Farm On event, which promoted agriculture and locally- produced food while also raising money for scholarships for students wishing to pursue a career in farming.
Farm On allowed the public to become familiar with their local agricultural community by tasting samples of locally produced wares, chatting with farmers, purchasing fresh food and sparking an agricultural interest in the younger generation with kid-friendly activities.
Ronald Osofsky of Ronnybrook Farm Dairy said that he chose to participate in the event to help raise money for the Friends of the Farmers Scholarship. The scholarship, which was started with help from the Cornell Cooperative Extension for Hudson Valley students, will help those who wish to pursue a career in agricultural sciences.
Osofsky said that it is important to encourage the younger generation to become involved with farming, especially as the average age of farmers continues to creep higher.
The average age of principal farm operators, according to the U.S. Agriculture Census, is 57.1 years old. In 2007, more than a quarter of all American farmers were 65 years old or older. Only 22 percent of farmers were under the age of 45.
The fastest growing age group of farmers in the United States is the 65-and-older group.
“There are so many easier ways to make a living,” said Osofsky about farming. “[But] food is essential.”
Osofsky said he wants to support the agricultural scholarship because he believes that students can obtain a broader, deeper base of knowledge during their four years of study at a college than they could through an internship, which gives specific knowledge in a narrower field.
The event’s participants weren’t limited to what the public traditionally thinks of as farmers, meaning those who raise typical farm animals or grow produce.
Nestled among the tables full of veggies and dairy products was a display of locally-produced maple syrup.
Kenny Travis recently opened the Crown Maple Syrup farm and factory in Dover Plains. Earlier this year, the company harvested its first batch of maple syrup — a whopping 7,100 gallons of it.
Crown hopes to double production next year. Eventually, said Travis, the company hopes to be the largest producer of maple syrup in North America.
Later in the evening, the restaurant at the Copake Country Club Golf Course, called The Greens, served a meal made from ingredients that were produced within a 25-mile radius of the club.
“Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer and supports and enhances rural communities,” explained a recent club newsletter.
The restaurant maintains a brunch and dinner menu full of meals created with healthy, locally-produced food.
North East Historical Society lecture
Dave Tetor spoke to the North East Historical Society on Saturday, July 9, to discuss the state of agriculture in the town of North East and in Dutchess County.
Tetor, who was raised on a dairy farm in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, has been on several agriculture-related boards. He currently serves as president of the New York State Agriculture Society.
“Things have changed a lot,” he declared early on in his lecture. He then talked about how although the number of farms has decreased, the average size and production of farms has increased. Four farms of “yesteryear” are the equivalent of one of today’s farms, he said.
The acreage of farms has decreased only slightly, from 125,000 acres to 102,000 acres over the last few decades.
Dutchess County, he recalled, used to be known for its dairy and beef, but it is now the top county in New York for horses. He went on to say that, previously, Saratoga had always been listed as the top county for horses, but that was because the census was done during the month of the famous Saratoga horse races.
After outlining the major points in the history of farming in the area, including the farm buyout in the 1980s and the skyrocketing real estate prices in the 1990s, he began talking about the impact of all of these changes.
“When family farms go out, we lose more than just the farms and the land,” he said, citing work ethic, appreciation for nature and love of animals as some of the other major losses.
Questions from the audience helped move the lecture to more pressing topics.
Tetor discussed the benefits of both local and organic produce and summarized his beliefs by stating that both are important, but that buying and selling locally is the more important of the two.
When talking about the future of farming in this area, he described several programs and ways that organizations are reaching out to young farmers, but said that the current biggest obstacle that has not been overcome is the high cost of land.
Tetor said that he believes it is important to talk about farming and agriculture in a public setting. Only 2 percent of the population are farmers, he said, and they need to explain to the other 98 percent why what they are doing is important and worthy of funding and support.
He hopes that the recent trend of creating roof-top gardens in places like New York City will teach people about how hard it is to grow food so they will understand the obstacles that farmers face and support pro-agriculture initiatives.
He said there is still a number of local youths interested in agriculture-related jobs, but very few of them are looking into working in food production, which is the most important agricultural job.
Webutuck Central School District has been promoting agriculture through a garden club. During the school year, students tend a small garden on the school grounds to learn about the science of farming and to gain an appreciation for the hard work that goes into food production.
Food that is harvested during the school year is given to the Webutuck cafeteria to be made into meals for the students.
Green Peas TV
Green Peas TV, a traveling cooking show that films throughout the Tri-state region, recently filmed a segment at the “Meet the Chef” event held at No. 9 restaurant in Millerton on Sunday, July 24.
“Within this entertaining, yet instructional setting, Green Peas TV strives to promote the concept of supporting and buying from local food sources,” stated the website. “Our aim is to create a greater demand for locally-produced food by gradually making the public aware of the true cost of buying food that is shipped from across the miles, both to their own health and to the community they live in. We’ll promote our local merchants, our neighbors, and in turn, we’ll strengthen our local economy, support our endangered farms, protect the environment and our own health.”