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December 08, 2016
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Agriculture as economic development; The importance of public involvement

Despite the continuing decrease in farms and farmland that began here many decades ago, agricultural sales have continued to increase in the region. One of the most powerful tools available is direct farmer-to-consumer sales, which puts more money in the farmer’s pocket by cutting out the middle man. Successful examples of direct farm sales include CSAs (short for Consumer Supported Agriculture, in which a farmer’s customers buy a season’s “subscription” to a farm entitling them to receive a share of the weekly harvest; RSAs (Restaurant Supported Agriculture), farmers’ markets and roadside stands. Also encouraging is how more supermarkets are starting to contract with local farmers for produce, meat, poultry and eggs, dairy products and more. In addition, there is increasing interest by local, small-business entrepreneurs, who are turning local farm products into so-called value-added food products—jams and jellies, pickles and relishes, cheese and yogurt, soups and other ready-to-eat dishes, and more.

Other positive signs include investments in agricultural infrastructure. After a lot of hard work to secure grant funding, Sullivan County’s food and agricultural sectors will benefit from a number of funded or partially funded projects that either are in the planning stages or under construction; these include a food hub (including a central location for distribution and/or processing of local farm products), construction of an incubator kitchen (to help food entrepreneurs get small food businesses started) and a slaughtering facility for livestock. These projects, admittedly small of scale, are a good start toward building an ever more vibrant local food system to the benefit of our rural communities.

How best to encourage the economic growth of agriculture for our future is the question facing the Sullivan County Agriculture Protection Board, the Agricultural Advisory Board and the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management (DPEM) as they work to update the county’s 15-year-old Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan (AFPP). Their goal is to create a forward-looking plan with concrete action steps that will focus on the needs of farms and farmers. Of vital importance in the process is public input, and Sullivan County residents are being asked to take a short online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SC-AgPublicSurvey. (Later there will be separate surveys for farmers and for municipal officials.) Responses are anonymous. The survey needs to be completed by March 15.