Last weekend, I attended the Adirondack Harvest Festival, which was held at the at the Essex County Fairgrounds and adjoining Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) office in Westport. The family-oriented event had something for everyone and proved to be a marvelous opportunity to see the diversity of small agriculture in northern New York, and to meet and speak with area small-agribusiness owners and Extension agriculture researchers and educators. And with free admission, free music, and free educational demonstrations, including gourmet mushroom cultivation, soap making, beginner beekeeping, cider pressing, and much more, CCE, along with participating farmer-presenters, and numerous sponsors (Thank you so much!) made it as inexpensive as possible for the hundreds who were there, to attend, learn, and generally make the most of the afternoon.
Locally-produced food was the focus of the day, with a Farmers Market that featured dozens of local, small-scale growers offering their products for sale. I was able to speak with several of these independent producers, who grow and sell vegetables, fruits, meats, and homemade value-added food products (including baked goods, jams, jellies, cheeses, snack foods, fruit juices, and wines). I enjoyed asking questions, and providing feedback. I learned that many of the growers offer homemade, value added, hand crafted, and seasonal goods year-round. And, since there are no middlemen and no stockholders, they’re able to sell those goods at competitive prices, while realizing a considerably larger share of every consumer-dollar being spent. I learned too, that these local entrepreneurs care greatly about the health of their land and their animals, as well as the quality of the food they sell. And I thoroughly enjoyed conversation with other folks who shared recipes and gardening tips and ideas.
Food-truck vendors worked diligently to keep up with the hungry crowd. I overheard one absolutely delighted couple describing the crepes they were feasting on as ‘awesomely delicious!’ and ‘the best!’ People waited patiently in line for afternoon helpings of mouth-watering, organic, barbeque pork with farm-fresh sides from local growers. The slow-smoked pig roast vendor sold out well-before the afternoon was over.
Wood-fired-oven-baked pizza was another crowd-pleasing favorite (before they sold out, too). After all, what could be better, on a picnic-perfect Saturday afternoon, than fresh, hot-out-of-the-oven, wood-fired pizza and refreshing, thirst-quenching, cold draught beer from one of two Adirondack-region breweries. Vintners were on hand sampling and selling their wines, as well.
Adirondack Harvest is a community-based local food and farm promotion and development program with a strong commitment to small scale, sustainable farming, and a focus on developing and expanding markets for local farm-fresh products. Participating farmers, retail stores, and restaurants provide consumers with opportunities to purchase wholesome, locally-grown fresh-picked vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, homemade baked goods, local grass fed and finished meats, free range chicken and eggs, jams and jellies, cheeses, maple syrup, honey, snack foods, fruit juices, beer, wine, liquor, and more.
CCE Extension Educators, through initiatives like Adirondack Harvest, offer programming, information, and services designed to keep clients up to date on the latest scientific advances, technologies, and practices, and to enhance their productivity and profitability through diversification, integration, increased marketing skills, and risk and benefit assessment. We realize that the New York agricultural and horticultural landscape is constantly changing, both locally and across the state, and we work with agri-businesses to help them not just add value, but to protect, enhance, and improve food safety, human and animal health and safety, and environmental quality, by utilizing integrated pest management and best management practices in their strategic plans.
The CCE system encourages agricultural entrepreneurship by providing educational programs in business planning. We offer direction to those looking for start-up assistance, access to capital, and networking options. CCE is facing the challenge of developing systems that allow growers at all levels to produce and sell nutritious food products at competitive prices. And CCE is constantly looking for ways to enhance public understanding of agriculture and food production systems, while strengthening public and official support for the farming community.
In northeastern New York, direct marketing has become an important strategy in connecting producers with local communities, as well as with regional, state, national, and international markets. Extension promotion campaigns and initiatives, like Adirondack Harvest, have created international recognition of regional agricultural products, while empowering our farmers with greater bargaining muscle.
CCE educators appreciate that there is tremendous potential in wholesale markets, too. We recognize that the goal of improved agricultural economic and community development is best served when all stakeholders in the food system; producers, processors, retailers, restaurant owners, chefs, food service businesses, schools, institutions, and consumers, join forces. We support and appreciate their participation.
Photo: A customer makes her selections at a local vegetable grower’s farm stand at the Adirondack Harvest Festival in Westport.