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An agricultural vision


January 20, 2011

By CINDY GIEGER

As a teenager I dreamed of the perfect place to live. After traveling this vast country, I discovered why four generations of my ancestors chose Sullivan County. My great-grandfather, proprietor of Liberty’s Shady Grove boarding house, welcomed guests to his farm for “fresh air and clean water.” I am now part of that rich farming heritage as owner of Gieger Dairy Farm—NY State Solar Dairy of Distinction and a co-founder of Sullivan County Farm Network, which works to increase farm activities and connect those who grow food with those who eat it.

Sullivan County boasts over 380 farms with approximately 62,000 acres of productive farmland. The total economic value of our agricultural products is over $80 million, making farming one of our top economic stimulants.

Early settlers in Sullivan County cleared the land for the lumber and tanning industries, creating a burst of short-lived economic activity that gave way to immigrant farmers returning to farm the land. By the 1950s, a new generation of tourists arrived, once again, for “fresh air and clean water.” But we are now poised to focus on another short-term solution, gas drilling, when sustainable agriculture is the key.

My vision for Sullivan County is not new, since agriculture has been here all along. With it comes economic sustainability, jobs and a promising future. My vision is a return to a community-based food system where farming is a valued part of community life, and where comments like “farming is dead” are replaced with “farming is the answer.” How can this be done?

We need a new farm-friendly mindset in local government, with agricultural representation on every board, including grassroots farmers, that plans for economic growth. Support is needed to reduce regulations for small farms, to protect agricultural zoning and preserve farmland. I envision local restaurants serving local produce coupled with supermarkets promoting local products with “Sullivan County Select” sections. Local schools and colleges would provide local foods, and plant school gardens. They would offer classes in agriculture to teach farming’s impact on our health, economy and the land we love. Farm activities would be assisted by a grant-writing board that would secure funds for agricultural projects. Possible projects include local meat processing, macro- and micro-creameries, a commercial kitchen and a packaging facility for local food lines complete with marketing plans to NYC,