Photo: Fishkill Farms, HVADC's March 2017 FFBA Participant
Family farms have defined the Hudson Valley for centuries. But between the chicly fading red barns, the grass-munching cows, and the proud heirloom chickens strutting around, there’s trouble brewing.
The number of dairy and beef cattle, fruit and vegetable farms, fields of golden grain, fields of sheep and goats, are on the decline (see Snapshot of Agriculture below), and without them, the Hudson Valley will be just another sort of hilly place in America with a lot of strip malls.
While small regional farmers are figuring how to compete with Big Ag, consumers are clamoring for the products of the little guys. New York has an estimated $7 billion in unmet demand for locally produced foods and beverages, and the Hudson Valley has an unmet demand of $335 million, according to the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC).
Sounds like this situation could use a superhero. The nonprofit HVADC — which covers Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer, Washington, Orange, Ulster, and Sullivan counties — was founded in 2007 to combat these disturbing trend lines by applying the same entrepreneurial thinking deployed at tech companies in Silicon Valley here in our Valley.
Todd Erling, HVADC’s executive director, says its mission is “to develop and provide innovative solutions that create dynamic agricultural entrepreneurship and enhance economic growth in the Hudson Valley.”
HVADC’s executive director Todd Erling. Photo: Jennifer Bock, Program Associate, HVADC
Since its inception, HVADC has helped close to 200 agricultural operations with business development, financial planning, and market readiness (think: marketing, social media strategy, PR outreach). More than 600 farms, restaurants, and producers are in HVADC’s network, having had attended seminars, workshops, or consultations. For specifics on whom HVADC helps and how they help, see “HVADC Initiatives” and “Whom HVADC Serves” below.
In addition to giving farmers and would-be food entrepreneurs a road map to success, HVADC helps administer grants and assists clients with the application process. Sara Higgins, owner of Raspberry Fields Farm in Marlboro, says the experience will pay dividends well into the future.
“As a small business owner, guidance, assistance, and partnering are lifelines to my company. I found all three as a participant in the program. Being selected for the program offered me countless present and future opportunities to help scale my business as well as put me in a mastermind group of other small business owners,” she says.
Their guidance is paying off for other producers as well. Two “grads” from HVADC’s program were recently awarded first and second place in SUNY Adirondack’s Business Plan Competition. Lavenlair Farm of Whitehall won $5,000, and Argyle Cheese Factory of Argyle snagged $2,000.
Photo: Lavenlair Farm
And it’s not just farmers and small businesses who need a leg up: it’s the entire region and its network of small businesses, which depends on foot traffic from Manhattan, Boston, and Albany, urbane visitors who come for a rural escape to spend money in the Hudson Valley’s celebrated farm-to-table eateries, wineries, U-pick farms, offbeat antique stores, and other local establishments.
In Sullivan County, visitor spending spiked 7.3% to $449.7 million in 2017; in Orange County, spending jumped 3.6% to $492 million; Ulster saw an increase of 6% to $587 million, according to a recent report.
Do you think these visitors will keep coming up if the charming family farms, small country corner stores, and quirky microbreweries close up shop? If you want to support the region’s farms and the entrepreneurial makers who help keep them in business by using their products, head on over to our pantry. A curated list of suggestions, below.
SUPPORT THE HUDSON VALLEY
Crown Maple Syrup, crafted in Dover Plains
Hudson Valley Marshmallow Co’s Sweet Chai Hot Chocolate and Salted Caramel Marshmallow, handmade in Beacon
The Hudson Standard’s Botanical Bar Bitters Trio, cooked up in Hudson
Les Collins’ Strawberry Preserves, simmered in Hillsdale
Sammy’s Bucket Apple Cider Sugar Cookies, baked in White Plains
SNAPSHOT OF AGRICULTURE
While the state doesn’t break the report down by region, the most recent report from the USDA shows that the annual production of milk in New York in 2018 was down slightly (0.3%) from 2017.
The average number of milk cows on farms in New York was down to 623,000 head, down from 624,000 in 2017, the USDA reports.
Grain has been getting hit as well: barley’s planted area in NY is estimated to be at 9,000 acres, down 10%; oat’s planted area is 60,000 acres, down 13%. But winter wheat’s planted area is 110,000 acres, which shows no movement and hay’s harvested area is up 11% to 1.35 million acres.
Egg production is down too. From 1,717,800 to 1,656,500 eggs.
- Incubator Without Walls: Qualified business that are admitted into this program can tap into a wide range of services to accelerate their growth and increase their chances of long-term success, ranging from comprehensive business planning, strategic planning, marketing and promotion, project planning, matchmaking services, food safety certification, grant writing, value added infrastructure, farm transfer, land access, and production diversification.
- Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA): A six month intensive training program designed to help farmers and food entrepreneurs develop the necessary skills and materials to scale their business, build sales, and access financial sources.
FFFA participant Cristina Garcia. Photo: Jennifer Bock, Program Associate, HVADC
- Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Loan Fund: HVADC is designated as one of eight third party lenders participating in the New York Job Development Authority’s (JDA) Agriculture Loan Fund Program. With a focus on the Mid-Hudson and Capital regions, the HVADC loan program issues low interest loans between $50,000 and $200,000 to small agribusiness owners. The Loan Fund enables HVADC to further support the development of viable local food systems throughout the regions that it serves. Projects qualifying for loans may include the acquisition of and/or improvements to land or buildings, the purchase of machinery and equipment, and working capital that will be used in support of the New York State agricultural industry.
- Hudson Valley Bounty: The Hudson Valley’s most comprehensive local farm and food online portal featuring over 475 farms and enterprises throughout the region, with descriptions, product lists, photos, maps, and wholesale and contact information included for each. The fully searchable high-traffic website is used by local consumers, tourists, chefs, farmers, wholesalers, and institutional buyers. The site may be found at www.hudsonvalleybounty.com.
- Topic Specific Workshops: As needs emerge, HVADC presents timely topic specific instruction such as its Food Labeling workshop, Making It Happen sessions, and Local Lamb Lessons series. These public programs are open to all interested parties.
- FeedHV: This regional food rescue and gleaning network is dedicated to meeting the needs of neighbors while mitigating food waste. Though a web-based and mobile application powered by ChowMatch, FeedHV links food donors of prepared but unserved food and fresh produce (including farms, restaurants, catering services, grocery stores, hospitals, universities, and more) to nonprofit organizations with food assistance programs (such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters) and a network of volunteers who transport, glean, and process donated food.
Graphic by Feed HV
WHO HVADC SERVES
Through a variety of consulting, training, and funding programs, HVADC assists start-up enterprises, as well as those transitioning and growing. HVADC strives to enhance businesses and strengthen the agricultural economy as a whole, by working with operations involved in:
- Production Agriculture
- Value-Added Food and Beverage Processors
- Agriculture-Based Alternative Energy Ventures
- Sustainable Forestry and Wood Products Industries
- Ecotourism and Agritourism Sectors
- Agriculture Research and Biotechnology