April 21, 2008
Contact: Katherine Lang, North Country Regional Foods Initiative, 315-379-9192 x261
Note: Please credit writer and reprint permission by The Malone Telegram

Conference Brainstorms Ways to Connect Local Farms, Food and Consumers
With excerpts from Malone Telegram article by Connie Jenkins

Tupper Lake -- Economic developers, Cooperative Extension specialists, businesspeople, tourism officials, and farm representatives from seven Northern New York counties recently gathered at the W!LD Center in Tupper Lake to brainstorm ways to better connect locally grown food with local consumers.

�I was extremely pleased with the diversity of interests among participants related to local foods. The conference provided an excellent networking and learning session with some real connections created to pursue further food-related economic development opportunities locally and with state representatives,� says North Country Regional Foods Initiative Coordinator Katherine Lang.

The North Country Regional Foods Initiative, Cornell University�s Community and Rural Development Institute (CaRDI) and Cornell Cooperative Extensions in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties organized the conference. Sponsors were Adirondack Harvest, the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA), Garden Share Inc., and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets with media coverage by The Malone Telegram and Mountain Lakes PBS.

Jerry Cosgrove, deputy commissioner of NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, was on hand to answer questions and convey the state�s recognition of the economic impact of North Country agriculture. He asked more than once for ideas on how the Ag & Markets can help farmers. Gov. David Paterson also sent a representative to the conference.

Local Food Impact on Health, Environment, Farms
Several speakers shared survey data showing that consumers say they prefer to buy local food, seeing it as fresher, healthier and a way to support local farmers. Jennifer Wilkins of Cornell University introduced the crowd to the Oxford American Dictionary�s Word of the Year for 2007: Locavore, someone dedicated to eating locally grown foods.

�Local even trumps organic in the polls, 50 percent versus 38 percent,� Wilkins said. �Local and organic are valued for many of the same reasons, but people say they want local first.�

That consumer preference is made clear, she said, by the continuing growth of farmers� markets across the nation, community gardens, farm to school and farm to restaurant programs, and CSAs (community supported agriculture) where customers sign up in advance for a farmer�s goods so the farmer has a better idea of how much and what to grow.

Adirondack Harvest Chairman Tom Both of Keene mentioned the various regional food promotion efforts including farmer-mentoring-farmer programs, greenhouse projects, collaborations with restaurants, community gardens and ties with schools. He stressed the importance of keeping local dollars local: �Agriculture is about the viability of living in the North Country.�

Deputy Regional Director Roseanne Murphy of Empire State Development said her agency�s efforts are geared to �Keep the business here; keep the jobs here. There�s a lot of money in the state budget for economic development and infrastructure.�

Prior to a luncheon prepared with locally grown foods, concurrent presentations addressed the Taste of Place: Developing Regional Identity Around Food & Agriculture; Community-Based Marketing Infrastructure; Agricultural Entrepreneurship; Connecting Local Foods With Health and Well-Being; and Land Use and Agricultural Economic Development.

Craig Bilow of Malone, a partner in Regional Brand Builders and Sustain Brand, works every day to make sure a local food brand communicates itself as such. Products labeled Sustain will be locally owned and locally grown in the community where they are sold. He said, �The item will never come from more than 250 miles away.�

Bilow had perhaps the most the startling information of the day � research shows $8 million leaving the North Country each year for food purchases. He said, �Farmers don�t even need a market outside the North Country, if we would all eat what is grown here. We have an $8 million opportunity in the North Country.�

Now what?
A Local Foods IV event to be held May 1 in Lake Clear, May 2 in Alexandria Bay and May 3 in Croghan will continue to create networking opportunities by celebrating local food connections between farmers and chefs, food processors, grocery store buyers, school food service managers, retail store operators, authors, branders and markets. For more information and to register by April 25, contact Bernadette Logozar at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County at 518-483-7403. The May 1st dinner program is filled. The free 10am to 4pm programs on May 2nd and May 3rd still have openings.

The North Country Regional Foods Initiative project team includes representatives of each Cornell Cooperative Extension office in NNY and the Community and Rural Development Institute (CaRDI) at Cornell University. The team has a $60,000 federal Economic Development Administration University Center grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce through the Economic Development Administration University Center designated for New York State at Cornell University and CaRDI. To learn more about the North Country Regional Foods Initiative Project, contact Katherine Lang at 315-379-9192 x261. # # #