The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Partner Spotlight:
Washington County's Laura Oswald
Washington County Director of Economic Development Laura Oswald wears many hats. Along with economic development she also oversees the farm-filled county’s Agriculture, Planning Tourism & Community Development Committee. One of the numerous reasons why she has been a great ally to the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation for the past seven years is her belief that agriculture influences all of those sectors.
“Agriculture is a significant industry for us. HVADC is contracted to assist us with getting our farmers what they need,” Oswald said. “We, as a county have been dairy-centric for the last 100 years. The dairy industry overall has been suffering for a while. One thing we look to HVADC for is to work with farmers to broaden their reach, diversify, or whatever they may need.”
In addition to dairy, Washington County also has a lot of small animal and vegetable farms, and fruit orchards. These farms are growing faster than dairy in the county but Oswald says, for now milk is still king. HVADC has worked with a number of farms in the county as a result of referrals by Oswald, providing farmers with access to financial counselling and business planning through its Incubator Without Walls program.
“Agricultural tourism and foodies have been a big part of our growth,” Oswald added. Like everywhere else, however, the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced that driver. More and more, residents have been looking to local farms and farm stands as a reliable and safe alternative to the supermarket. Some farms have grown and flourished as they have taken advantage of the growing market. Others, like dairies, are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and need assistance from government like the Payroll Protection Program.
Oswald said that meat producers in Washington County have done really well, including a number of local smokehouses and HVADC Incubator Without Walls client Tiashoke Farm, a dairy that diversified into meat production and other products to bolster their future.
“Washington County is a special place with a long and proud agricultural tradition. Laura has been a dedicated champion, booster and supporter of the amazing and diverse farms in her community,” said Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director. “We are all particularly attuned to economic struggles of dairy farmers and Laura does a great job of making sure this community defining industry gets access to all the assistance it deserves.”
Despite being at the northern end of the region, the majority of Washington County’s large farms are still very much financially linked to New York City, while also being a bread basket for the capital region and Saratoga.
Along with partnering with HVADC, Washington County Economic Development’s agricultural initiatives are also supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Agricultural Stewardship Association. Oswald says the trifecta of farm-focused aid organizations is a great benefit to the county, its farms, and food producers.
Oswald says her office is currently preparing to hold more forums and meetings on increasing farmers understanding and usage of online resources to boost sales and marketing. The first meeting to that effect was put on by the county in February 2020. COVID understandably put that project on the back burner as Oswald triaged issues as they arose during the pandemic but now she is resurrecting the initiative, as online sales and communications have become some of the biggest difference makers for small farms moving forward.
Oswald grew up in California but moved to New England in the 80s. She’s traveled the country and the world working in software and advising businesses great and small. When she came to Washington County she started a small lavender farm and while it’s not in existence anymore, Oswald’s extensive business experience and personal connection with agriculture has made her an effective and dedicated leader.
In the business frontier of 2021 a farmer’s laptop is as important as their plow. Oswald’s range of experience with technology and her care for people has made her a asset to Washington County, its farmers and food producers and everyone at HVADC.