The HVADC Cultivator
Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County
Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Sullivan County has been working its tail off for years on behalf of their local farmers and agricultural community. However, this past year, with the pandemic stressing every aspect of the Hudson Valley’s food system, the good folks at CCE Sullivan have proven to be invaluable assets to the community and to HVADC as project partners, collaborators, and friends.
In Sullivan County, agriculture represents the second largest economic sector, and the CCE has a multitude of programs and resources that address food system issues in a holistic way. The CCE’s Agriculture and Food Systems program is actively working in partnership with HVADC to address a multitude of issues including dairy processing, food safety regulations, farmland preservation, issues facing beginning farmers, business management, agri-tourism and more.
HVADC and CCE Sullivan are both represented on the board of the Catskills Food Hub (CFH), an organization working to strengthen local agriculture, increase access to fresh food, and improve health outcomes for Sullivan County residents and throughout the region. CFH offers education and training for producers and buyers; and aggregates, distributes, and markets agricultural products. During COVID CCE and HVADC stepped in to support the staff, help with surging demand and provide technical assistance.
CCE has also supported participants in HVADC’s Incubator Without Walls (IWW) program. CCE operates the Catskill Kitchen Food Business Incubator in Liberty, a facility where small businesses can access a commercial kitchen to produce value added products. CCE has provided commercial resources to IWW participants through the Catskill Kitchen and is looking to increase the amount of Sullivan County farm businesses taking advantage of the program in the future.
“It is sometimes hard to believe how many important programs CCE Sullivan can deftly juggle at once,” said Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director. “They have always been great partners and help in any way they can to better the businesses and lives for our farmers and neighbors.”
The CCE Sullivan team also worked with HVADC to provide farmers and producers with information and resources to improve food safety to meet new COVID guidelines. This is also a continuation of their concurrent work helping farm businesses become compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) so that farmers meet the requirements to sell to food hubs.
Additionally, HVADC is collaborating with CCE Sullivan on disseminating information and helping producers navigate the USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP). These are voluntary audits that verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards. This is an important classification for producers to receive whether during a pandemic or not.
To address the lack of market diversity impacting dairy farms, HVADC has been working with CCE Sullivan to create independent production opportunities for small regional dairy farms who have struggled to find or keep large-scale buyers.
“Value-added dairy is a long and complicated process. We have been working with HVADC to increase demand and growth for direct sale products for regional independent dairy,” said Meddaugh. “These farms need more options and we are hoping that the support we provide will help them control their own markets. We hope to get the first operation online in the next few months.”
Through its “Fresh Sullivan” campaign, the CCE runs two Sullivan Fresh Markets. One is based in Monticello and the other is an “on the move” market. CCE Sullivan is also working with local farmers and distributers to get fresh food into the supply chain faster through the Nourish New York program.
With the pandemic causing more and more families to experience hunger, CCE’s Sullivan Fresh Community Cupboard food pantry has also made a major impact. Likewise their Mobile Farm Stand has added more delivery points to be able to bring fresh healthy food to people unable to travel to, or afford other farm fresh food shopping alternatives.
“When COVID arrived we were deemed essential and really shifted our focus to food access and assisting with the supply chains that were broken by the pandemic,” said Melinda Meddaugh, CCE Sullivan Agriculture & Food Systems Issues Leader. “The last few years we have really been focusing on getting the word out so farmers know we are here and have resources that can really help them.”
CCE Sullivan is a busy office filled with professionals working tirelessly for their farm producers and all the eaters they serve. HVADC is proud to partner with them and applaud their successes especially in this time of greatest need.