The HVADC Cultivator

HVADC Contributes to Sustainablity Plan in the Mid-Hudson Valley

In 2013, every region in New York published a plan to guide carbon reduction and economic development. The statewide initiative stemmed from then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo's 1999 conference, "Bridging the Divide: Making Regions Work for Everyone: Shaping the Federal Agenda," which invited experts and academics in regionalism, smart growth and urban revitalization to present their ideas, followed by panel discussions among a diverse group of stakeholders.

The Mid-Hudson Valley’s Sustainability Plan sets out a vision for sustainable development that builds on our distinct and rich regional history and character, with the goal of promoting economic development, environmental sustainability, and enhancing quality of life. Over a dozen organizations who worked on the plan engaged hundreds of stakeholders from each of the region’s seven counties in the development of the plan to create a series of objectives that reflect the Mid-Hudson Valley’s diverse landscapes, demographics, economy, culture, and history. These objectives and the corresponding strategies are the shared vision for the Mid-Hudson Valley’s sustainable development, as well as a series of priority initiatives to help achieve the vision. While the plan provides a common framework and roadmap, it is important to note that each resident, municipality, and organization has the freedom and the responsibility to chart their own course toward achieving the plan’s objectives, either individually or collectively.

Regional leaders centralized around the project, developing a sustainability plan for the region. The regional plan’s goals and targets focus on key issues: Transportation, Waste Management, Climate Change Adaptation, Land Use, Water Management, Energy and Agriculture. HVADC’s Deputy Director, Mary Ann Johnson, was the co-chair of the Ag & Open Space Working Group with Deborah Dewan, former executive director of Rondout Valley Growers Association. Both Dewan and Johnson had formerly served together with the land and farm conservation organization, Scenic Hudson. 
 
Johnson and Dewan coordinated with the consulting team and the Mid-Hudson Region Sustainability Planning Consortium to review data, organize volunteers, facilitated meetings and identify strategies for the Ag & Open Space section of the plan. Johnson continues to serve as the Ag representative on the Mid-Hudson Sustainability Coalition, a group that formed after the plan was adopted, to work on ways to implement the plan and keep it relevant in region. 

“In terms of the strategies in the plan, we work with partners to help protect farmland through easements and HVADC continues to provide services to support the economic development of farms, ag-dependent and ag-related businesses,” said Johnson. 

Ag and Open Space-related goals created in the plan (found on pages 7-1-7-25 of Sustainability Plan) include increasing agriculture and silviculture (the cultivation of trees) activities in the region, improve access to sustainable agriculture and silviculture training and technologies, increase intra-regional consumption of food and fiber, reduce energy and green-house gas emissions from farm and farm-related activities, strengthen the economic viability of agriculture/silviculture in the region, increase open space, protect wildlife and maintain biodiversity.  Two targets the plan lays out involve increasing acres of farm land from 323,154 acres to 332,700 by 2020; to 342,700 by 2035; to 352,000 by 2050, and increasing number of farms from 2,321to 2,369 by 2020; 2,440 by 2035 and 2,520 by 2050.  In 2016 Cuomo announced the awarding of $20 million in grants through the Hudson Valley Agricultural Enhancement Program to help local farmers protect valuable, at-risk farmland from future development and maintain the land’s use for agricultural purposes; the state’s first-ever regionally targeted farmland conservation grant program. It was allotted to protect more than 5,600 acres of active farmland on 28 farms in seven counties through permanent conservation easements. 

The Ag and Open Space portion of the plan also lays out several means by which the goals and targets can be achieved; protect prime farmland and facilitate access to land for farmers, protect priority conservation areas, increase energy efficiency and renewable energy in agriculture, strengthen food infrastructure networks, expand urban agriculture and promote sustainable agriculture education and training and facilitate transfer of knowledge. The plan seeks to achieve two intrinsic goals within the Ag focus area; the first of which is to expand sustainable agriculture and “working landscapes,” and the second is to protect open space (page 7-2). 

The plan boasts that farm operations contribute significantly to the local economy as they tend to spend within their community yet utilize only $.29 in services for every $1.00 earned in taxes (page 7-6).  The plan draws from research, analytic and data sources such as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, Glynwood Institute, Scenic Hudson, American Farmland Trust, U.S. Census data and U.S. Census of Agriculture, county tourism offices, U.S. Forest Services, Cornell University and more. 

For the purposes of the plan, the definition of a farm is based on that of the USDA Agriculture Census, which considers farms to be agricultural businesses with gross annual receipts of one thousand dollars or more. The USDA Agriculture Census definition has been used for the purpose of data collection and analysis. However, it is important to recognize that not all farm activity is included in this definition, such as farms whose owner’s sole occupation is not farming and where gross receipts are at or below the $1,000 mark. 

The plan highlights the region’s distinct advantages, such as access to markets, direct marketing, rise of local food movement, value-added products, our fertile soil and favorable climate, diversity of agricultural products and the NYC drinking water supply watershed (page 7-3). 

The plan lays out required actions for the challenges cited as follows: counties and municipalities need to continue to implement planning policies that help curb infringement on agricultural landscapes on a regional level; new methods are needed so that landowners, land trusts, and agencies work together to protect land from development and help farmers access needed resources; investment in infrastructure needs to be sustained to expand value-added processing and facilitate market access; farm businesses need support through policies and programs that enhance their economic viability; increased integration is needed between agriculture and processors and retailers of food products and facilitating access to land for new farmers (page 7-7). 

Patricia Pomeroy, Executive Director of Hudson Valley Regional Council (HVRC) worked on the plan as well. “We all brought our expertise to the table, we worked in silos within our area of expertise under the guidance if E & E Engineering who were the architects of the plan,” explained Pomeroy. “We would occasionally have a large group meeting but most frequently were worked in our 5 focus groups – Land Use and Transportation; Energy; Water; Food, Agriculture and Open Space; and Materials Management.” 

Pomeroy said the idea of getting together as a group didn’t happen until a while after the plan was released, developing into the Mid-Hudson Sustainability Coalition. “We got together because we wanted to be pro-active and support the continued use of the plan…especially by the Governors appointed Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) who were naming priority projects and making recommendations for state funding for projects. We started to advocate for the plan, and advocate for a seat at the REDC table to make sure they were looking at sustainability.” 

Pomeroy admitted there were components of the plan that were way outside of her comfort zone-- mostly in the energy field, she said – and learning about community choice aggregation, solar, etc. “I also learned a great deal about the synergies between each of the elements in the plan. This is particularly interesting now as we are seeing more emphasis on agriculture, organics diversion, food scraps and waste.”  

Pomeroy went on to say that HVRC was doing their five-year update on the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), and said she was tasked with putting together the Agriculture section of the CEDS, and used HVADC’s Agriculture CEDS from 2008 as well as a report on Agriculture in the Hudson Valley that had been done by Glynwood.  “As a Sullivan County resident, I felt pretty cocky about my knowledge of ag districts and farmland protection but it was eye opening for me to learn from the HVADC and Glynwood documents the extent of the economic impact of ag in our region,” Pomeroy said. “It is also interesting to note that the book Drawdown which is extremely popular right now has stressed the importance of agriculture in its climate solutions – stressing plant-rich diets, silvopasture, and regenerative agriculture, along with the reduction of food waste as major initiatives for climate change solutions.” 
 
“We will continue to work on sustainability issues and look forward to seeing how the Governor’s proposed Green New Deal can impact the work on the sustainability plan,” Johnson added. 

For more information about the Agriculture and Open Space plan, please visit https://www.orangecountygov.com/DocumentCenter/View/1462/Chapter-7---Agriculture-and-Open-Space-PDF

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