Sep 30, 2020
Eric Ooms brings a valuable perspective to the organization through his hands on experience working his family’s multi-generational dairy farm in the Valatie village of Kinderhook,
As a member of the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation Board of Directors, Eric Ooms brings a valuable perspective to the organization through his hands on experience working his family’s multi-generational dairy farm in the Valatie village of Kinderhook, A. Ooms and Sons Dairy. He also lends vital policy and governmental knowledge to the HVADC team as Vice President of the State Board of Directors of the New York State Farm Bureau. And, if farming instinct could be passed down through blood there might be no farmer more qualified than the Ooms, aside from maybe his father.
The Ooms family started milking cows in the Netherlands back in 1525, according to Eric Ooms, but it wasn’t until 1952 that Eric’s father Adrian immigrated to America at 17 and a few years later, founded his own farm in Chatham. Ooms moved the dairy to Kinderhook in the 1980s where the family has been cementing their local legacy ever since. The Ooms have always felt a call to be civilly and politically active in areas that impact their community and business. Eldest brother Ron has been a voting member of Cabot Creamery Cooperative, of which the Ooms farm is a part, middle brother Tim is a Kinderhook Town Board member and of course Eric is an HVADC and Farm Bureau board member.
Eric says his father took them to town board meetings starting at a young age and instilled in them the importance of public service. “Working in the public policy field offers me the opportunity to help… and an escape from the farm,” he said. Ooms jokes that he agreed to join the HVADC board because Executive Director Todd Erling cornered him and he just couldn’t say no. "One of Eric's great strengths is that even though he's a life-long dairy farmer he has a great empathy and reciprocity of all farmers no matter their crop or system," said Erling. "It is that compassion for his peers in agribusiness that drives him. That quality paired with his mind for policy and big-picture thinking make him a vital member of the HVADC board."
“There are a lot of agriculture economic development models that have become chic over the years,” Ooms said. “The holistic approach HVADC uses to help farmers secure financing, credit and resources is so necessary.”
He adds that helping new businesses plan for how to directly access consumers, in person or online, is another important way HVADC helps the agribusiness community “evolve to its full potential in a modern economy.”
But our modern economy is now besieged by COVID-19 and no sector of the farming industry has been more impacted than dairy. He says that while there are new opportunities for small dairies to increase direct sales there’s also significant risk. The only way to scale up a dairy business these days, Ooms believes, is to have hardy distribution channels. But he is optimistic and says the pandemic’s impact on dairy and agriculture in general could have been a lot worse.
“We’re in the beginning of September. In April, if you told me we’d be where we are now I’d be the happiest man on earth,” Ooms said. “The market has rebounded, so that’s positive. We (dairy farmers) also benefit from having a steady market year round. Veggie farmers don’t have that, and that can be really tough for them too.”
From his vantage as a policy influencer, Ooms said it has been inspiring to watch farms quickly and dramatically “turn their business models inside out,” to adapt to the pandemic. He says he is nervous about what the New York City market is going to look like when life gets back to normal.
“All the capital leaving NYC is really shaking up the economic snow globe,” he said. “It’s leaving the city but at the same time it’s moving up the Hudson Valley. This has shades of (the residential migration) after 9/11, but I think it will be more pronounced up here, where we are.”
From the barn to the boardroom Eric Ooms’ service to HVADC broadens and deepens organizational perspective. His intellectual acuity for policy and technical experience on the farm make him a unique and appreciated asset to the leadership team and the community.
For more information on the HVADC Board of Directors visit https://www.hvadc.org/team-4