Linking What We Grow With What We Eat

David J. Valesky

September 20, 2007

When I talk to farmers in Central New York about the prospects of selling more of their products to consumers downstate, many tell me how hard it is to break into those markets. It is true, and there are many reasons for this, not the least of which being the lack of a distribution infrastructure.
Yet, when I speak to my Senate colleagues from the New York City area, they tell me their constituents are eager to buy New York grown food and farm products. These consumers want New York products for health and environmental reasons, among others. And the restaurants, corner grocers and green markets that serve these consumers have expressed a strong desire for these products, as well.

There are several efforts underway to improve the distribution network, including the Governor’s push for a New York products distribution center at Hunts Point, in New York City. But there is more we can do.

Earlier this year, I decided that one of the ways my office would help expand markets for Upstate products would be by building better relationships between Upstate farmers and downstate consumers.

This past week I was delighted to host, along with Morrisville College President Ray Cross, ten of my Senate colleagues on a series of tours highlighting the agriculture industry in Upstate New York. These Senators, who represent millions of consumers from the New York City area, met with local farmers and with agriculture industry representatives during two days of events. On these tours we talked about the dairy industry, agritourism, food processing, marketing of New York products, and farm-based energy, like wind power and biofuels.

Most of these Senators had never been on a farm before, and left with a far greater understanding of agriculture and the challenges farmers face each day. Equally important, they all left with the names and phones numbers of who to call when asked by restaurants and grocers in their district how to get New York agricultural products.

Downstate consumers want fresh, locally produced foods. Upstate New York has the ability to supply these products. This is about more than just buying ands selling New York products. It is a real opportunity to use the assets of our entire state to improve our economy. Together, we can do it by creating a better link between what we grow and what we eat.