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Agriculture as economic development; The importance of public involvement

February 26, 2014

There are any numbers of reasons that more people want to eat locally grown food these days. They want to eat fresher more nutritional food. They want to know what went into it—how the farmer grew, raised or produced it. They want to support farmers in their own communities rather than enriching big agribusiness and big food processors based far away. They want to enjoy seeing farmland and open spaces on drives along rural roads.

Meeting this growing demand for local food means increasing the supply, and today there are many players—from farmers, to government agencies and non-government organizations, to dedicated individuals and volunteers—working not only to bring more local food to our tables here in the Upper Delaware River Valley but also to tap into the vibrant food markets in nearby metropolitan areas. Beyond helping farmers improve their livelihoods (most farms still need at least one family member bringing in an off-farm income), the goal of developing the local farm economy is to contribute to the growth of the economy as a whole in our largely rural region.

We already have a good foundation and a good start. Agriculture already makes an important contribution to the economy of the Western Catskills (Sullivan, Ulster and Delaware counties). According to the 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, the gross economic impact of farming in these three counties was $300 to $400 million annually. In 2011-2012 in Sullivan County alone, agricultural products contributed $85.9 million toward the community’s economy. And when the ripple effect is considered, Cornell Cooperative Extension has concluded that the total economic impact of agriculture in Sullivan County reached $257.7 million with each farm dollar circulating over three times in the local community.