Almost lost in the hoopla of the pizza party/sleepover at the state capitol and the on-time budget this week was a couple hundred farmers and friends who came to Albany Wednesday from across the state — including several buses from NYC — with the simple message: No Farms No Food.
Sounds pretty obvious, but in New York State a farm is lost to development every 3 1/2 days! This is a state with world class soils, plenty of water (in contrast to some western states), and centuries of farming tradition. Agriculture is the number one industry in the state. Yet over the last 25 years New York State has lost a half million acres of farmland to subdivisions, strip malls and other development according to the American Farmland Trust. Dutchess County, home to 170 dairy farms in 1972, has only 15 today. Lose our family farms and we jeopardize food security, homeland security and economic security! Agriculture is a critical economic engine for our state and region — agriculture is jobs and economic development. And our farms are vital to local economies, too, since farmers largely spend locally.
These gracious ag advocates thanked legislators for the $12 million dollars in the proposed 2011-12 state budget for Farmland Protection, but the reality is that there is a backlog of some 61 farms that have been promised $70 million for conservation easements. These are the farmers who are making the commitment to keep their farmland working farms and not to cash in with developers. These are not easy choices to make, let alone sustain while the state strings them along for years and years — in some cases more than a decade.
And why isn’t there a win-win way to make some of this land accessible to young farmers. There are young farmers who literally want to put down roots here in our region. In fact, the newly formed National Young Farmers Coalition is set to plant their national headquarters right here in the Hudson Valley. The average age of the American family farmer is 57, according to the USDA, with an increasing number who are age 65 and older. If we are going to feed our population in this state we need policies that are welcoming to young farmers who have energy, work ethic, and commitment to sustainability, but limited financial resources. They are our future.
There was lots of talk at the No Farms No Food rally about linking farming with urban communities — Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s Rev. Robert Ennis Jackson talked about his community farm in central Brooklyn and their efforts to address food justice head-on.
Here in the Hudson Valley, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project is preparing to partner with Walkway Over the Hudson, the new sky-high state park, with a Friday Farmer’s Market bringing farm fresh produce to the eastern entrance to the Walkway from 3 pm to 7 pm beginning May 20th. A second City of Poughkeepsie market will serve the community in nearby Pulaski Park. The Farm Project is currently immersed in their own innovative food justice project. Called Building Bridges, it is a community collaboration working through door to door interviews and community forums to create a plan for a hunger-free, nutritionally healthy city for Poughkeepsie residents. For more Dutchess County agri-tourism news, as well as info on 2011 Farm Fresh Tours which bring farm friendly visitors to the county, check out Dutchess County Tourism’s website.
Now, how about finding some summer jobs for our urban youth to work on nearby Hudson Valley farms? It’s empowering and teaches new job skills to young folk with time on their hands, it fills a need at local farms and helps encourage a new generation of farmers.