Family Farms and Local Food Systems: A New Direction

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If I say ‘New York’, you probably think of New York City, concrete, crowds, traffic, murders, noise and pollution. What you may not realize is that not far outside the city and throughout the rest of the state, New York is rural and agricultural.

red barn upstate New York

New York’s Hudson River Valley is a renowned agricultural area that supports wine grapes, corn, onions and a wide variety of other vegetables. The late Pete Seeger supported local agriculture in his homeland with concerts to benefit small farms. He also participated in Farm Aid concerts to support local ag around the country. Being an activist from the Hudson Valley, he knew the important role small farmers played in the economy and our survival.

Training new farmers

It’s been in the news over the last year that the average age of a farmer is now late 50s/early 60s. They are slowing down, yet young family members are not eager to get into farming. The solution is to train 20- and 30-somethings to farm sustainably ands keep these small farms productive for generations to come.

In the Hudson Valley, the 1255-acre Gill Farm is in transition to do just that. The Local Economies Project (LEP), the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County have come together to buy the farm and turn it into a hub for training new farmers. This is the sort of proactive behavior we need to see to keep small ag alive.

It is farms like these that get bought up and developed into overpriced subdivisions. Once farmland is lost to development, it can never be returned. It’s important, crucial even, to keep farmland in production. The Hudson Valley is perfectly located to serve a wide region that includes several large cities – New York, Boston, and the urban areas of upstate.

The Gill Farm, a family farm, has been in operation since 1937. John Gill, the current owner, will help the farm transition to its new use then stay on as the manager. Who knows the land, climate and weather better than he does? He’s a valuable resource, making it a logical move.

Farm and food hubs

The new farm hub will also be a place for research and demonstrations of sustainable farming methods. The organization will also help with marketing assistance, and access to land and capital to start a new farm or expand an existing farm. Around the Hudson Valley, LEP is also creating food hubs for processing and distribution.

This is the food system of the future. This is where we need to be going to keep farmland productive, provide healthy, fresh and affordable local food, create jobs and boost local economies. As new farmers are trained in sustainable and organic farming methods, they will fight against GMOs and Monsanto, too. This is the sort of thing that needs to keep expanding in New York and globally. Get involved in your region to support local agriculture! Pete Seeger would be proud!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.