Apples to Apple: Senator prodding farmers to markets
By LAUREN LEWIS
Eating local food is in, and that could be great news for local farmers looking to expand their selling market.
State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, and members of the upstate farming community paid a visit to New York City's largest greenmarket at Union Square Park Jan. 17.
"We were amazed at the foot traffic in New York City, at the markets," Tkaczyk said.
The Union Square Market is open four days a week, all year round.
"It was fascinating to see so many people there for several hours, shopping and buying things and connecting with farmers," Tkaczyk said.
These New York City markets provide a new way for farmers to get their product directly to the people who are looking for it.
"There's a great opportunity now with the interest in fresh local foods," said Brian Gilchrist, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton, Montgomery, and Washington counties.
There are 54 greenmarkets throughout New York City and they are managed by the non-profit Grow NYC.
"There are farmers markets happening at least every day of the week," Gilchrist said. "Sometimes more than that."
Tkaczyk thinks there is a huge demand for fresh and locally produced foods, especially in New York City, where you can't go outside and pick an apple off a tree like some places here.
"Their grocery stores must be so crowded and confined," Tkaczyk said. "And people really seemed to enjoy the openness and being at the market."
However, this opportunity may not be for every farmer.
"It's a big commitment and expense to go to New York City," Gilchrist said.
But not impossible.
"If you want to explore selling your produce in New York City, for example, there are ways to do that if you connect with other farmers and go down together or take turns going down," Tkaczyk said. "You can support each other."
Tkaczyk is ready to help people make connections, and enthusiastic about the idea of local farmers selling their products at different markets. She wants to help get people talking to others who have the resources to help them do what they want to do.
"It's all about supporting our agriculture industry and our farmers," Tkaczyk said. "Not only to help them make it to the market, but to survive and thrive."
There are approximately 36,000 farms in New York state and almost all of them are family-owned.
"The farming economy produces something like $4.7 billion annually," Tkaczyk said. "When farmers are able to farm productively on their land, they're recycling those dollars, and that type of money gets recycled locally in our local economy."
Tkaczyk is looking for ways to help farmers get over the hurdle of getting their product to market.
"I think consumers are really looking for that local connection," Tkaczyk said.
If any farmers are interested, they should fill out an application online at GrowNYC.org.
Once applications are processed, Grow NYC may do a farm visit -- they have a strict policy of allowing vendors to sell only products that they themselves have produced.
Once accepted, you can go every week, all year long, or just for one day.
"Grow NYC will work with you and assign you to the market that seems to make the most sense," Gilchrist said. "The whole purpose of farmers markets is to give people access to fresh local foods."
The average fee for selling at the market is $80 a day, which allows vendors to utilize a 12-by-12 space.
"I got the impression that farmers are rockstars down there because people want to have this connection with the person that's producing their food, and I saw that happening over and over again," Tkaczyk said. "So if you can get there it's definitely a productive day for the farmers."
If New York City seems too far to go, there are still other options for local farmers to get their products out there.
"The Corbin Hill Food Project in Schoharie County has a tractor-trailer or two that goes down to the Bronx [and Harlem] every week," Tkaczyk said. "They bring produce down from almost 20 different farms in the Schoharie Valley, so those farmers are selling their produce directly to consumers."
To learn more about the Corbin Hill Food Project visit corbinhillfoodproject.org.