Jan 1, 2018
Population increases and development pressures are challenging the future of agriculture across America.
Population increases and development pressures are challenging the future of agriculture across America. Farming families are facing issues ranging from business planning for new livestock, crops or value-added products, to how to keep the farm in the family for future generations. Here in the Hudson Valley there are organizations and people committing energy and resources to assist agricultural producers in stabilizing their businesses, striving for increased profitability and planning for transition. For over ten years the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) has been the region’s sole economic development agency with a specific focus on the viability of the agricultural economy in the Hudson Valley. HVADC promotes market-based solutions which support agricultural enterprise, foster rural economic growth and enhance the regional supply chain for food producers. Offering individualized services such as financial planning, market readiness preparation and business development, HVADC can tailor services to meet a farmer or producer’s specific needs. One case history of HVADC’s resource assistance is Sycamore Farms in Walkill.
In late 2015 Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the first-ever regionally targeted funding to protect viable agricultural land from being converted to non-agricultural use. Through the Hudson Valley Agricultural Enhancement Program (HVAEP) $20 million in grant money would be awarded to help local farmers “protect valuable, at-risk farmland from future development and maintain the land’s use for agricultural purposes.” Protecting more than 5,600 acres of active farmland on 28 farms in seven counties through permanent conservation easements and administered by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Hudson Valley Agricultural Enhancement Program provided funding to local partners, such as municipalities, counties, soil and water conservation districts and land trusts, to help land-owners in the region protect viable farmland from being used for purposes other than farming.
HVADC was brought into the project through the Orange County Ag Plan Implementation Committee, coordinated by the Orange County Planning Department. The committee is charged with working on the implementation actions of the Orange County Ag and Farmland Protection Plan by providing a range of expertise and support to the both the County and its farmers. The Town of Walkill approached the County for assistance in writing several grants to the HVAEP for farms in the town, and as a member of the committee, HVADC was able to offer its services and provide a grant writer with farmland protection expertise. This expert worked with Sycamore Farms who then received one the largest awards from the HVAEP funding.
Announced in May of 2016, Sycamore Farms was one of four farms in Orange County to be awarded funding ($1.8 million) that would permanently protect their farm for future generations. The 203-acre fruit and vegetable farm, has been family owned and operated for almost 40 years by the Smith family. Henry and Susan Smith purchased the original 92 acres and 1820s home in 1978 with the original intent of establishing a wholesale vegetable business. At that time farm stands were struggling, though farmers markets in New York City were beginning to flourish. Since 1981 the primary focus of the business has been serving the NYC customer. Attending NYC markets several weekdays and on Saturdays from June until November they were able to build an extremely successful business. In 2005 the Smiths began a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program but found over the following years that local demand outgrew their facility. With their family growing and their business expanding, Sycamore Farms opened their farm stand in 2013. The 4000 sq. ft. farm stand not only showcases the Sycamore Farms products ranging from sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes to peaches and strawberries, but also the talents of other local producers, such as a local beekeeper that harvests from boxes on the farm. The farm stand also houses a kitchen that allows them to extend their sales season by preserving products in a variety of ways, such as canning and pickling, and allows them to host community events, pot luck dinners or a farm to table event. They visit local schools and NYC business organizations to not only promote their farm but agriculture in New York State.
Today the farm is operated by Henry, Susan and their son Kevin. Kevin, actively involved in the farm since 1999 and a business partner since 2005, currently lives in the original 1820s homestead with his wife Kristen and their children. Henry and Susan are looking forward to transitioning away from the day to day operations and, with the state funding, will be permanently protecting the farm through a conservation easement. Securing the land base helps to ensure Kevin’s continuity of the business, as well as continue to enhance the community with a view of the expansive vista of a productive farm on busy Route 211.