Innovation and adaptability are just two of the characteristics common to six regional farmers profiled in a newly released report on the agricultural potential of the Catskills region.
“Ground Up,” which provides insights into elements of successful agricultural production in the Catskills and emphasizes the area’s potential as a viable foodshed for the New York metropolitan market, was presented last weekend at the Callicoon Farmers Market. “We were excited to see how many people showed up,” said Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper (CM), one of the organization’s responsible for the report. “It speaks to the desire of people to support local food.”
Other organizations involved were the Columbia University Urban Design Lab, Open Space Institute (OSI), Watershed Agricultural Council and the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition.
The report finds the region has the potential to produce enough healthy, locally grown food to feed millions of people in New York City and beyond. “There is a huge gap between demand and supply that farmers in New York can fill,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s CEO and president. “As we’re able to protect farmland and fill in that gap, farming will have a tremendous impact on economies statewide.”
Gillingham agrees. “We’re so close to such a large market that’s really underserved and we’ve got the land to meet that need. It would be good for our economy and also for their way of life.”
Profiled in the report are Mark Dunau of Mountain Dell, whose five-acre Delaware County operation has provided for his family for two decades and is now putting two children through college; John Gorzynski of Gorzynski’s Ornery Farm, whose knowledge of crop biodiversity helped him become a favorite at farmers markets in Sullivan County and at New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket; Greg Swartz of Willow Wisp, a self-taught organic farmer who learned through two internships before starting his own farm from scratch; Richard Dirie of Dirie Dairy, who converted his dairy operation to raw milk production as a last resort as prices for traditional dairy plummeted; Tim Tonjes of Tonjes Dairy, whose sales of innovative “value-added” dairy products have kept his family’s operation going; and Marc Jaffe of Snow Dance, a former Manhattan executive-turned-farmer who now supplies meat to high-end restaurants locally and in New York City.
“Their stories are intended to motivate a movement that connects us to a local food base that changes our food consumption patterns to improve human nutrition and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint,” said Jennifer Grossman of OSI. “This can increase a farmer’s access to a regional market that pays a decent wage for labor, encouraging communities to develop infrastructure and networks to support local farms and ultimately protecting farmland from conversion.”
The report also details innovations in production, processing, product assortment, distribution and marketing. It highlights innovations in agricultural/food systems operations, including the ‘Cheesemobile’ (a mobile cheese-making unit) and Glynwood Center’s ‘Modular Harvest System’ (a mobile slaughterhouse and meat-processing facility) and gives brief descriptions of programs that focus on improving efficiencies in the areas of production, distribution, access and education.
“Eating locally and sustainably doesn’t mean the consumer has to sacrifice,” said Gorzynski. “Every consumer that comes to a farmers market and supports a local operation puts a few new dollars into fighting climate change and supporting the regional economy at the same time. If you appreciate quality food and the Catskills as a region, there is nothing more important than voting with your wallet to maintain our farms’ viability and the landscapes that provide our food.”
The publication is fourth in a series produced within the Urban Design Program at Columbia University and focused on environmental issues facing the Upper Delaware River region. Visit www.osiny.org/pdfs/GroundUpAgricultureCatskills.pdf  to see the report or contact CM at 845/482-5400 for a copy.