Critical Mass

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The Hudson Valley has become a magnet for the young farmers movement.  In recent times we have had several organizations dedicated to supporting new farmers including The National Young Farmers Coalition, The Greenhorns, and American Farmland Trust make their home in Hudson Valley.  New York’s Cooperative Extension has also shifted some of their focus to supporting new farming ventures in the area, and in the process, produced two incredible booklets including the Guide to Farming in NYS and a Resource Guide to Direct Marketing Livestock and Poultry.  The reason for this influx is based on many factors including the proximity to New York City, a climate conducive to growing a variety of plants and animals, tax-based incentives for home owners to lease land to farmers, our agricultural history, and the hipness of a modern American Kibbutz, has drawn many aspiring farmers and businesses to the area.

The boon has done many productive things for the farming community.  Because of the ubiquity of farmers markets and restaurants dedicated to local ingredients we have a population that is well versed on topics such as food sovereignty, security, and sustainability.  The additional businesses promote more and varied access to farm specific products such as new feed mills, livestock processors, and seed suppliers, not to mention the continuous farm buzz emanating from the new coffee shops and breweries popping all over the valley.  This interest further benefits American famers in the sense that they are more willing to take risks on new and alternative systems of production, that if successful, can be replicated and tested around the country.

This is all well and good but there is another side to the increase in new farms in the area and that has to do with simple supply and demand.  The number of consumers purchasing directly from farms or farm stores is not exactly robust, yet the number of roadside stands continues to increase.  Along with the increase in direct sales is the expansion of CSA programs in the area.  Finding consumers willing to commit to and purchase premium products at retail prices can be difficult and at this point, at least here in the Hudson Valley, I am beginning to see some farms struggle.  The mechanics of the difficulties are not complicated.  We have too many businesses producing the same products at the same time.  The tag words that used to define the premium aspects of these products are understood by the general public but the newer farms tend to have a more difficult time differentiating themselves from the other established enterprises in the area.  We all know that promoting and supporting small businesses benefits the local community in many ways, so what can we do to support these new agriculturally based start-up?

The first part of the solution involves the professional organizations developing and supporting these beginning farmers.  We need to be realistic about the supply and demand chain here and innovative in developing quality business plans.  Each new farm should be thinking about whether there is a market that is not tapped or a time of the year where competition is not as intense, how your new business can differentiate your product from others, or possibly provide a product to a new consumer base such as ethnic communities or those with dietary restrictions?  From a consumer standpoint, and this includes me as well, we need to increase our buying powers.  Speaking through your wallet is the most important thing that you can do to promote our area’s new farm businesses.  In order for our new farmers, ranchers, and agricultural entrepreneurs to succeed they need our support and guidance to build a business that is both differential and sustainable.

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