What do farmers need?

Agriculture summit forges a plan for growth in Orange County

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  • Farmers said growers need to take advantage of the growing interest in local foods and specialty farm markets. Pictured: DePiero's, a thriving indoor farm market and "shop local" gift store nestled at the edge of a large Industrial Park in Montvale, Bergen County, N.J. (Photo by Edie Johnson)

By Edie Johnson

— If it weren't for the fancy auditorium at the county's Emergency Services Center, you might think you were at an old-fashioned grange meeting.

By the numbers

Orange County has 642 farms on over 2,6000 parcels, representing 77550 acres.
The county has 2 agricultural districts representing 30 percent of the county and includes 166,422 acres.
Agriculture in the county represents $75.75 million in total sales.

Farmers from all over Orange County joined a work session to put together a plan for the county that will help grow agri-business while holding on to the many farms that thrive in the lower Hudson Valley. From milk producers, to horse enthusiasts, hay growers, egg producers, orchard growers, and those developing canned, dried, and packaged goods, each had a list of the problems they face, and solutions that could help solve them.

What the farmers said

“The era of romantic farming is gone. It’s darn hard work. If you compare the prices for milk today with what it cost years ago, and then compare a haybine with what it cost years ago, well...”
“It has to start with education. Children in the lower and middle schools are not being taught about agriculture.”
“Have we gotten to the point where we are so efficient that only large commercial entities can survive?”
“Much of New York’s food supply comes from Orange County. People don’t know that. They should.”

Farmers said better communication was needed so that they could learn about the many grants that float around unused. They also talked about the huge advantage to milk-producing farms if a processing facility were located at the southern end of the county. Some kind of share program for costly processing equipment — such as for drying and canning fruits and vegetables — would also be helpful, they said. One farmer with a degree in agriculture said interest in sustainable lifestyles and locally grown produce was running high, and that knowledge of agriculture should be instilled in the lower grades and continued through high school.

Also on the wish list: more realistic, and less oppressive, regulation by both the State Department of Agriculture and the County Department of Health; less restrictive local zoning; better networking and advertising; tax relief; and year-round indoor markets to make Orange County a more appealing tourist destination. Flood protection, especially along the Wallkill River was mentioned as a continuing concern. Farmers said the lack of sufficient seasonal farm help is a recurring problem, along with federal and state pressure for higher wages and benefits for farm workers.

Several small local farm indoor stores have already started to share their goods. And local Shoprites have been expanding their "Locally Grown" sections of fresh, packaged and canned goods.

Farmers said that one of their biggest concerns is that the average Orange County farmer is now 54 years old. Many of their children are not interested in the farming life, or in running a business on the family farm. This could lead to a serious decline in agriculture in the county, especially since another complaint high on the list was that new farmers need support to get a successful start.

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who helped host the meeting, said two new businesses in the area, Amy's Foods and Kikkerfrosch Breweries, are both planning to open businesses in Goshen and will be seeking contracts with area farmers for supplies of organic foods and hops.

The summit was presented by David Church of the Orange County Planning Department and Nan Stolzenburg, AICP, founder of Planning Better Places. Also involved were the Cornell Cooperative Extension Agency, the Farm Bureau, the Soil and Water Authority and the Open Space Institute. S.

For highlights of the county's proposed agriculture plan and minutes of the farm meetings contributing to it, check the Orange County website (www.orangcountygov.com, under the Planning Department section.)

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