New congressman meets with young farmers at Hartwick

Whitney Bashaw | The Daily Star Rep Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, meets with members of the National Young Farmers Coalition at a roundtable discussion on regional agriculture at Hartwick College on Monday. 

Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, was in Oneonta on Monday to meet with young farmers at Hartwick College.

Delgado, who was appointed to the House Agriculture Committee, visited with members of the National Young Farmers Coalition from the Leatherstocking and Catskill chapters to discuss their needs as the new Farm Bill rolls out.

“It is apparent to me there is an imbalance in how farms are supported, and the system tends to favor corporate mega-farms … which are nonexistent in New York’s 19th,” Delgado said to the group, who nodded in agreement.

Greta Zarro, co-owner of Unadilla Community Farm and president of the Leatherstocking chapter, said the Young Farmers Coalition represents a “new generation” of farmers, favoring small-scale diversified product and direct-to-consumer relationships with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

Primary concerns included infrastructure, distribution and the cost of farming. 

Bari Zeiger, a garden manager and sustainable agriculture coordinator, said while there is a “wide spectrum of issues in the farm system,” infrastructure presents the clearest challenge.

Tianna Kennedy, Catskill chapter president, said distribution is also a “large hurdle” and emphasized the possibility of this area becoming a regional breadbasket if it had the proper infrastructure. Many of the farmers at the forum sell to restaurants and consumers in New York City. Everything is transported by the farmers.

There are few processing facilities for dairy and meat in the region, and fewer options still for those wishing to remain direct-to-consumer.

Zeiger said dairy farms lack access to direct marketing because they do not have pasteurization facilities.

“They are not paid on parity but on commodity,” she suggested opening up pathways for farms to pasteurize milk on site, likewise for processing meat. She mentioned modular slaughter facilities that could help cut the cost of processing by reducing the need to transport livestock to another place. William Carbine, owner of Girasole Farm, said grain processing facilities were also lacking when this region used to be a breadbasket for the United States.

Alanna Rose, who runs Cairn Crest Farm, a diversified meat farm, said she travels to Pennsylvania to process the livestock, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Rose said entering into the farming industry is cost-prohibitive for those without substantial capital. Ben Tyler, co-owner of Unadilla Community Farm, mentioned student loans keep young people from pursuing farming and suggested something could be done for loan forgiveness if farming is classified as a public service.

The group saw opportunity in connecting the agricultural industry to the Green New Deal, an ambitious stimulus package that proposes the elimination of carbon-producing fuels.

Delgado said he was interested in developing that connection, especially if it could help create jobs. 

“We shouldn’t be expanding the infrastructure of fossil fuels,” Delgado said. “The systems reflect an older mindset and it must be modernized to reflect the demands of an emerging market.”

Zarro asked Delgado to support increasing aid for micro-grants and federal initiatives such as the Local Agriculture Market Program, or LAMP, which supports regional food businesses and direct-to-consumer market practices to develop regional food sheds. Delgado said he was supportive of those measures. 

Whitney Bashaw, staff writer, can be reached at 607-441-7218 or . Follow her on Twitter @DS_WhitneyB .

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