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April 9, 2013

Local growers eye Big Apple markets

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — HAMDEN — Walter Riesen grows vegetables on Star Route Farm in the Otsego County town of Worcester.  Ken Jaffe raises grass-fed beef cattle on Slope Farm in Meredith.

Both farmers would like to sell more of meat and produce in New York City. After all, the five boroughs, with a population of more than 8 million, doesn’t have any farms.

Therein lies the opportunity for Riesen, Jaffe and other industrious farmers seeking to expand their businesses in a tough industry that doesn’t allow for many strategic mistakes.

Risen and Jaffe were among about 20 local farmers who gathered Monday at Lucky Dog Organic Farm in Hamden to consider working with the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE) in organizing a “food hub” in Delaware County. The goal is to expeditiously and efficiently move fresh farm products to consumers and businesses in New York City.

“We have the food, and they want it,” said Rebecca Morgan, director of CADE. “The demand is there, and everyone is trying to figure out how to efficiently meet that demand.”

Rather than have each local farmer truck their farm-fresh products to New York City, CADE is hoping the farmers can work cooperatively to coordinate shipments directly to the buyers.

In some cases, those buyers are restaurants with discerning patrons who prefer to know precisely how and where the food that appears on their dinner plates was grown. CADE is also working with Greenmarket in New York City, a not-for profit operation begun in the 1970s that helps about 230 farmers, fishermen and bakers sell their products.

The mission of Greenmarket is to promote regional agriculture by providing small family farms the opportunity to sell locally grown produce directly to consumers. Brokers and middlemen are not allowed.

The local farmers who met Monday were advised that if they want to sell to Greenmarket, they must contact  the organization’s buyers and work out a price for their products.

Richard Giles, owner of Lucky Dog, volunteered to coordinate the transportation of the food to New York City.

The arrangement calls for the farmers to pay  15 percent of the gross invoice for the shipment to the customer. That would cover both transportation and loading.

“That’s how it’s going to start out,” Morgan said later. “If that works for everybody, that will be the number.”

Morgan said she hopes the shipments can begin this spring.

“We want to be able to have our system in place very soon,” she said.

Jaffe, a former physician in Brooklyn who got into farming a decade ago, said he already sells directly to markets and butchers in New York City but is interested to hear more from Greenmarket.

“Any system that makes it easier for farmers to get their product out to market is a good thing,” Jaffe said.

Riesen said reminders of the region’s past success in agriculture exist in towns throughout the area.

“When you look around at the beautiful homes and buildings and ask, ‘How did they get built?’ it was agriculture,” he said.

For instance, he noted, the community of Bovina, famous for the delicious butter produced there in the 19th century, had its own railroad spur as a result of the scores of successful dairy farms that existed there then.

Patrick Rider, owner of Greenane Farms in Meredith, said he’s excited by the possibility of having a cooperative venture wtih local farmers.

“The faster we get over the feeling that we’re competitors, the faster we will actually start to make money,” he said.

Giles, who already trucks his organic produce to New York City weekly, said local farmers can only benefit by having access to New York City.

“The market will appreciate better food at the prices that a conglomeration like this will start to provide,” he said.