NEW YORK, NY — April 18, 2011 — Telling its story through the lenses of six innovative farmers, a new report issued by the Open Space Institute in conjunction with the Urban Design Lab of the Earth Institute at Columbia University investigates food production in the Catskills region of New York—a region the report finds has the potential to produce enough healthy, locally grown food to feed millions of people in New York City and beyond.
"Spelled out in dollars and cents, the demand for locally produced agricultural products equals more than $866 million per year in the New York metropolitan area," said Kim Elliman, OSI's CEO and president. "Existing local production accounts for $147 million in sales each year, so there is a huge gap between demand and supply that farmers in New York can fill. As we're able to protect farmland and fill in that gap, farming will have a tremendous impact on economies statewide."
Agriculture in the United States has changed greatly in the last century, as farms and farm sizes have dropped so precipitously that only 1 percent of the country's population is now actively engaged in farming, compared to 25 percent in 1920. In 76,000-person Sullivan County, New York, home to only 235 farms in 2003 (there were 3,543 in the county in 1920), surveys indicate that residents value rural landscapes and the agrarian lifestyle, yet there has been no support from the state's Farmland Protection Program to preserve the county's farms.
Ground Up: Cultivating Sustainable Agriculture in the Catskill Region, which will be presented at 12 p.m. on April 23 at the Callicoon Farmers Market in Sullivan County, makes the case that the trend is one worth reversing. The report presents case studies of six farmers who, through creative adjustments in both production and presentation, have constructed their own models—dynamic templates for resource protection and adaptation to changing markets.
New York Assembly member Aileen Gunther and a representative from Congressman Maurice Hinchey's office will be in attendance on Saturday for the release of the report.
"Sullivan County farmers have recognized that new agricultural models are required. Green markets now supplement, and, to varying degrees, have replaced grocery stores," said Luiz Aragon, commissioner of the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management. "Our farmers are creating a connection between the rural and the urban, which is critical to supporting the needs of growing populations."
Profiled in the report, which will be released also with support from Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition and the Watershed Agricultural Council, are:
- Mark Dunau, whose small, five-acre Delaware County operation has provided for his family for two decades and is now putting two children through college;
- John Gorzynski, whose knowledge of crop biodiversity helped him become a favorite at farmers markets in Sullivan County and at New York City's Union Square Greenmarket;
- Greg Swartz, a self-taught organic farmer who learned through two internships before starting his own farm from scratch;
- Richard Dirie, who converted his dairy operation to raw milk production as a last resort as prices for traditional dairy plummeted;
- Tim Tonjes, whose sales of innovative "value-added" dairy products have kept his family's operation going; and
- Marc Jaffe, a former Manhattan IT executive-turned-farmer who now supplies meat to high-end restaurants locally and in New York City.
The study concludes with a series of "what if?" scenarios: What if all available farmland in Sullivan County were in production? What if schools in Sullivan County all served local milk? As the report contemplates economic and other impacts of increased local government advocacy for farmers, John Gorzynski believes, in the meantime, that consumers will continue to dictate the role local agricultural operations play in major metropolitan markets.
"Eating locally and sustainably doesn't mean the consumer has to sacrifice," said Gorzynski, one of the farmers profiled in the report. "In fact, it just makes sense to buy from regional farmers. Every consumer that comes to a farmers market and supports a local operation puts a few new dollars into fighting climate change and supporting the regional economy at the same time.
"If you appreciate quality food and the Catskills as a region, there is nothing more important than voting with your wallet to maintain our farms' viability and the landscapes that provide our food."