New York Ag Held Up As International Example

Recently, I had the pleasure of touring Abbott Farms in Baldwinsville, as part of a tour group that hailed from Moldova, a country in Eastern Europe near the Ukraine. The group was here due to the International Center of Syracuse, the Department of State and federal programs which encourage international travel among agriculture and civic leaders. The group, which has extensive experience in agriculture and, in particular, winemaking, was here to learn from the agricultural community of the Central New York and Finger Lakes regions.

Their primary focus was agritourism. I was invited to help give them insight into New York’s agriculture policies, which help support agritourism. In the past, New York has helped support these efforts through grant monies and that investment has paid off. Agritourism has become an integral part of the agricultural economy and has helped educate consumers on the benefits of seeking local produce. This education has, in turn, helped keep some family farms in business and had a positive effect on the greater ag community, as more consumers seek local produce. This is not only good news for farmers but is good news for consumers. It means consumers continue to have the option of safer, better tasting and more nutritious food. Programs such as WIC (Women Infants and Children) also provide coupons for those on assistance to shop at the local farmers’ markets, which has encouraged the buy-local movement.

Our farmers today compete in a global marketplace. Our state’s food policies are among the strictest in the nation, which makes our food among the safest in the world. Food must pass through a variety of quality assurance inspections before New York produce ends up in grocery stores. In the recent salmonella outbreak in which more than 1,000 people became sick from infected eggs, New York consumers could rest assured knowing that the eggs they bought at local grocery stores were not contaminated. Eighty percent of egg producers in New York are committed to a brand seal called the New York State Egg Quality Assurance Program. Similarly, other producers are committed to the Produce Quality Assurance Program, which provides third party verification services for growers, packers, shippers and receivers, developed to minimize the potential for microbiological contamination of New York produce.

The agricultural industry has collaborated on many levels. The Pride of New York program has enabled farmers to brand themselves and consumers have been trained to seek the Statue of Liberty on their food if they wish to buy local. The label can be seen on dairy, fruits, vegetables, Christmas trees, jams, jellies and relishes, maple syrup, beef, poultry, meats, wines, baked goods and candies. Our farmers also are good at marketing value-added products as well. The dairy industry has added value to their milk by producing award-winning cheeses. New York–based cheese companies, created largely by dairy co-ops such as McCadam, Heluva Good and others, have helped farmers by creating another market for their milk. Virtually every industry has had to brand itself in a special way so that consumers identify local produce—from apples to onions to wines to cheese to meats—as the industry makes adjustments to survive in a global food market. There are many other programs, such as farmland protection efforts, farm bureaus, Cornell Cooperative Extensions, and many other food associations, that have worked together to help make New York an example for others.

While this has not solved all the agricultural concerns about competing in a global commodities market and maintaining their livelihoods, these policies and programs have helped steer a resurgence in buying local. Other programs, such as farm preservation programs, have also helped keep farm land in use. Agritourism has helped draw the average shopper back to farms so they are more aware of where their food comes from. It also has helped those farms which have used agritourism to diversify their businesses stay in business. I’m proud that our collective wine trails, apple orchards and local restaurants, which attract customers with their local fare, impressed our international travelers.

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