By Anya Tikka
CALLICOON — Sullivan County could be the prime fresh food supplier for the Metropolitan New York City area according to the new study by the Open Space Institute.
Working together with the Urban Design Lab of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition and the Watershed Agricultural Council, the report details that not only are several local farms already supplying markets and high end restaurants in the city, but the demand by the metro area for fresh, locally grown quality food is also steadily increasing, making local farming a potent economic player in the region.
The report, “Ground Up: Cultivating Sustainable Agriculture in the Catskill Region” (view it at www.osiny.org) was presented at the Callicoon Farmers’ Market on Saturday. According to Jennifer K. Grossman, Vice President for Land Acquisition of the OSI, the next steps in the process are the distribution and marketing: how to get the produce to the growing urban markets efficiently and profitably.
A farmer profiled in the report, Greg Swartz of Willow Wisp Organic Farm in Damascus, PA, said he’s already supplying the metro markets on his own, but, “I want more farmers in this area, because together we can be more successful. It’s not competitive [right now].”
He added that the success in this area depends on the support of the local community, and “I need to get my price.”
Swartz emphasized that in order to provide quality fresh produce, the price will actually be higher due to the cost of both farming and distribution and storing.
Grossman and Swartz both explained that the government sets the price of milk below the cost of production, making it hard for the farmers. One of the solutions offered by Grossman is something called “value added processing,” in this case making cheese, yogurt and ice cream out of the milk, products that are not regulated by the local government, and could be sold at a higher prices as specialties of the region.
“What if we had our own creamery, selling our own ice cream brand, yogurt and so on”, she wondered.
County and state legislators are taking interest in the new possibilities presented by the report. New York Assembly member Aileen Gunther said “I’ll take this for you to Albany. I’m here to support you.”
Luiz Aragon, commissioner of the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management also pledged his support, acknowledging the ever growing demand for locally grown fresh foods due to the increasing consumer awareness of the health benefits. He said he’s working with a group of farmers with further plans. One of the initiatives that came up in the presentations is too get schools to serve local milk in support of the local farmers.
Farmers’ Market Manager Joseph Lennon estimated about 300 people came to the market on the rainy Easter Saturday, a larger turnout than usual.
“This is our last market indoors,” said Lennon. “Next week, we’ll move outdoors.”
Congressman Maurice Hinchey could not attend due to being sick.
In addition to Swartz, Mark Dunau, John Gorzynski, Richard Dirie, Tim Tonjes, and Marc Jaffe are the five local farmers featured in the report for their successful farming and businesses. Gorzynski actually started NYC’s first Greenmarket, and is the overall go-to mentor for local potential farmers.
Swartz said local apprenticeship is crucial in the process. He spent eight years as an apprentice before branching out on his own, a key factor, he claimed.
“Farming here isn’t easy, you have to learn the local conditions of soil, weather etc.” He added it’s the same wherever you farm. Swartz grows 50 different vegetables on 12 acres with his wife Tannis Kowalchuk, and “the business in growing.”
Many speakers emphasized how farming has a low carbon footprint, and does not threaten the environment or water, making it an attractive economic growth industry for the area. Local support is very important,
“Let’s keep buying!” said Gunther to enthusiastic applause.
“There has never been a problem with the production,” said Grossman, adding marketing/branding, and distribution/transport are the key areas to work on.
By Anya Tikka