Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guest Post: A Look at the 2013 Farm to Market Connection - State of the Foodshed Address

Sally Fairbairn, Watershed Agricultural Council
Guest blogger Sally Fairbairn is a retired dairy farmer, board member of the Watershed Agricultural Council and chairwoman of the Council's Watershed Agricultural Program. Here, she shares her perspective on the keynote "State of the Foodshed Address" at the 4th Annual Farm to Market Connection held on March 24, 2013 in Liberty. A video of this keynote address will be available in the coming weeks.

Keynote speakers Jennifer Grossman and Rebecca Morgan tag-teamed to bring a message of facts and figures mixed with optimism and urgency in this year’s State of the Foodshed Address at the 4th Annual Farm to Market Connection. Before 120 or so conference attendees, Jennifer explained that our present broken food system is a result of Federal farm policy that encouraged monocultures of commodity production. That system has provided cheap food for decades but with unintended consequences that are only now beginning to be recognized. Recent drought nationwide has shown how vulnerable we are to climate change. Type II diabetes, once found almost exclusively among the middle-aged adults, is now more and more common among elementary school children.  We are losing farmers and farmland at a pace that endanger our food supply. Overall, our food system is due for a major overhaul.

So why the optimism? One reason -- the recognition that something must change -- is gaining traction.  Rebecca reported on several examples - who is farming, where the farming is happening, what foods are being produced, how the food is grown and distributed, all facets of food production are showing change. Diversification and innovation are the buzz words to restore a healthy food system for producers and consumers.

Jennifer Grossman and Rebecca Morgan

The opportunity for farmers is probably unparalleled: in New York City, there is an estimated $1 billion worth of unmet demand for locally grown food. That is ONE BILLION DOLLARS – not a misprint. For the Catskill region that is one heck of a market in our backyard, and we are determined to figure out how to gain our share of it.

The development of farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture has served to help farmers find markets for locally grown food, but now we need to get past those smaller opportunities to get into NYC markets. One next step on the way to those markets is the Food Hub – where farmers collectively aggregate products to fulfill larger orders and/or deliver more efficiently.

Jennifer noted that just 4% of the produce that goes through the Hunts Point distribution facility comes from New York State farms despite the fact that we are among the Top 5 states in production of several commodities including cabbage, pears, wine, milk, yogurt, sour cream, maple products and apples. OK, not all those products would go through Hunts Point, but finding innovative ways to access that City market outlet could help some of our larger farms. And did you know the second largest food purchaser in the country is the New York City school system? Capturing event a percent of these markets would make a significant impact on Catskills farmers, economies and communities.

Rebecca continued to outline how we get there – to the school system, to Hunts Point, to the restaurants and shops that feed a population hungry for locally, sustainably grown food. We are increasing the infrastructure of food processing. Our land is still comparatively reasonably priced and available to farmers. Innovative incubators like the Glynwood Center and CADE research ideas and help determine what works. Groups like Catskills CRAFT help young farmers learn the skills necessary. Renewed interest in historically important crops like hops mark resurgence in grain production. Regional artisanal value-added dairy products are making a name for themselves.

Why bother? For one thing, cheap food is often bad food. Poverty impacts people’s health and it is not just an urban problem. Local people also need reasonably priced, good food. We can grow it here and have it available for a decent price. Agriculture helps underpin the local economy. There are tax benefits to having farmland not be developed and to having farms. Also the dollars earned by smaller farms producing locally grown food  stay within  a community helping to support the local economy before being sent out of the area by way of large corporations.  Jennifer is looking for a change not just in food systems but a change in economic systems to benefit local producers.

We are NYC’s Watershed and are officially recognized as part of its Foodshed. Progress is continually being made to help farmers profit from their proximity to this mega market.  Together, Jennifer and Rebecca brought us realism and optimism to start our day at the Farm to Market Connection.

Farm to Market Connection photo courtesy of Veccvideography.com

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sharing the Local Food Message Through Technology

Art of Listening infographic www.pamorama.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/artoflistening.jpg
Art of Listening: pamorama.net
Technology is transforming local economies and markets around the world by helping people communicate, connect and transact. Online technology is making it easier for both producers and consumers to share their stories and connect. 

On March 24, join us for a panel discussion on the latest technology for farmers both to use on the farm and to connect with their consumers. As this session introduces attendees to tools, techniques and trends to build an online presence, we'll post those resources here after the 4th Annual Farm to Market Connection. Tara Collins,  Communications Director at the Watershed Agricultural Council, moderates the expert panel including:

- Marjorie McCord, Marketing and Social Media Consultant
- Julia Reischel, Watershed Post
- Mel Weiss, Stone Barns Center, Virtual Grange

Remember, connecting with your audience revolves around content, authenticity and consistency. Share yourself with your consumers, supporters and members, be a thought leader and source of information, and keep the conversation going!

Farmer Resources
www.nebeginningfarmers.org (Northeast Beginner Farmers Project from Cornell Small Farms Program)

Digital-Content-Marketing-Wheel from socialstrand.com
Building a website
Weebly.com (free)  EXAMPLE:  CatskillsCRAFT.org

Building a Blog/website
Blogger.com (free)  EXAMPLE:  Pure Catskills
Wordpress.com (free) EXAMPLE: RosemaryFarm.org

Email newsletters
MailChimp.com (free)
ConstantContact.com (fee)

Social Media
Facebook.com (free)
Twitter.com (free)
Pinterest.com (free)

HootSuite.com (free)
Animoto.com  EXAMPLE:  Water & Land
YouTube.com  EXAMPLE: Introduction to Catskills FarmLink
Tiki-toki.com  EXAMPLE: Watershed Agricultural Council

Mobile Apps: (this can be its own future blog post)

Trainings & Other Resources:
Smartphones for Farmers April 5
Down & Dirty Marketing Plan (Green Otter Marketing)

Have a resource or tip to share? Share it below in the Comments Section.