I received an email from Judith LaBelle, president of Glynwood Farms:
HOW COULD NEW YORK STATE SUPPORT THE AGRICULTURAL ECONOMY OF THE MID-HUDSON REGION?
If you have specific suggestions or recommendations, now is the time to put them forward!
Governor Cuomo recently created ten Regional Economic Development Councils to develop plans for the use of nearly $1 billion in state funding, to be allocated in the coming years. The first task of the councils is to develop regional plans by November 14, so time is short.
The councils will also work with the state to eliminate unnecessary barriers to economic growth and prosperity, which may include some regulations and taxes. Priority will be given to proposals that can create jobs in each region.
Glynwood’s Director of Farm and Facilities, Ken Kleinpeter, has been appointed to the Mid-Hudson regional council, which includes these counties: Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester. He is working with the entire Glynwood staff to develop proposals that reflect and support the vital role that agriculture plays in the region’s economy.
PLEASE SEND YOUR THOUGHTS AND SUGGESTONS BY REPLYING TO THIS EMAIL (MidHudsonAg@glynwood.org).
For more information on the Regional Economic Councils, go to http://nyworks.ny.gov.
Judith M. LaBelle
So I respond, here, with an open letter to Mr. Ken Kleinpeter:
Mr Kleinpeter -
The Hudson River Valley is a food shed of enormous possibility, once the breadbasket of the America colonies, and now a center for the food renaissance in the US. There are several trends that warrant research and development.
The world — and the US — is rapidly becoming more urban: 82% of Americans live in cities and suburbs as of 2008, when the worldwide rate in only 51%. But this number is likely to increase, for a wide range of reasons, most notably the efficiency and lower costs of living in urban areas. New York City, for example, consumes the least electricity per capita in the US, and has the lowest percentage of car ownership.
But urbanization poses a variety of challenges for food production and distribution. We know about the problems of food deserts — regions where no fresh foods are retailed because of economic disincentives for conventional grocery chains — and some recent initiatives (like Michelle Obama’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative) are pointing the direction that we may need to head to counter those problems.
But a greater problem remains: if our current system of food production and distribution is unsustainable, and has contributed to the dietary and nutritional problems that the US faces, what will we be facing with even higher levels of urbanization?
The Hudson River Valley presents a unique opportunity to investigate the juxtaposition of a major metropolitan hub — New York City and the surrounding urban region — with a major food shed. For the country to learn how to feed its population safely, sustainably, and locally, this combination of town and country is arguably the best place to start.
However, the small, disorganized, and largely unsupported local food community of New York State has structural impediments to rising to this challenge: economic, logistic, and regulatory barriers slow the innovation and development needed.
New York’s Regional Economic Councils could be a source of needed innovation and leadership in this movement. As just one example, consider farmer’s markets. There are more farmers’ markets than ever (over 1,000 new markets opened in the last year, nationally), but participating farmers are complaining of increasing costs from transportation, distribution and staffing at multiple markets are cutting into margins. However, communities are benefitted by more markets, shorter travel to closer markets, and longer hours. Likewise, the provisioning of local healthy food to schools, nursing homes, food pantries, and other civic organizations is a social imperative, and con’t be accomplished just by programs like the Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
A regional solution to some of these core issues — like decreasing transportation and distribution costs though farmers’ and market cooperatives, for example — is exactly the guidance and support that the State could provide. I propose that some research into these issues is essential, as more diverse sorts of foods — local meats and fish, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages — start to produced locally, and for longer seasons, farmer’s markets will have even more challenges. But instead of a patchwork of one-off solutions, worked out market by market, a statewide sets of best practices and government supports could be developed, and ultimately set the stage for activities elsewhere across the US.
For more information on the New York State Regional Economic Development Councils, visit here. And send ideas and suggestions along to MidHudsonAg@glynwood.org, as well.