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December 10, 2016
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If you build it, they will come; Infrastructure for a local farm/food system

The importance of agriculture to rural communities cannot be underestimated, and the trend in Sullivan County to nurture local agriculture appears to be headed in the right direction. Two other encouraging examples of infrastructure investment are in the works here, too. Cornell Cooperative Extension will soon build a certified, commercial kitchen to help launch local food entrepreneurs (including farmers) in developing value-added food businesses—tomatoes into tomato sauce, milk into cheese, etc. Plans for a food distribution hub are also well under way with the first phase already funded through a large Rural Business Enterprise Grant to be administered jointly by Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corp. Farmers’ markets also are infrastructure, and Sullivan County’s farmers’ markets are doing well.

Without grants from various sources, including especially from government, many of these positive steps to grow agriculture and related businesses here would not be possible.

Now, sadly, some established federal grant programs are in jeopardy because Congress has not been able to get its act together to pass a Farm Bill. After the 2008 Farm Bill expired, Congress was able only to muster the votes to pass a short-term extension, and this extension expired on October 1. Programs like the Farmers Market Promotion Program, which helps farmers; increases customers of fresh, healthy, local food; and generates dollars for local economies, have not been funded since 2012. Other programs are operating with diminished funds, such as the Value-Added Producer Grants that help farmers and local food entrepreneurs acquire working capital and fund business plans to establish viable marketing opportunities.

We call on Congress to pass a new farm bill that will continue to support these strong and successful programs and others that promote economic well being for America’s small farm holders and farming communities. State and local governments must also continue to contribute, and various Sullivan County agencies deserve kudos for progress made to date but must keep up the good work.

We believe a bright future lies ahead for farm and farmers in our region, if everyone (including consumers who buy fresh local products) continues to support and invest in farmers.