by RJ Anderson
Through his involvement with agriculture organizations across New York state and as owner and general manager of Bittner-Singer Orchards, Jim Bittner has developed many strong friendships through the years. On Thursday, Dec. 7, one relationship in particular was on full display as Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) recognized Bittner with the organization’s 2017 Friend of Extension award at Coltivare in Ithaca, NY.
A first generation farmer, Bittner’s 500-acre fruit farm in northern Niagara County produces apples, sweet cherries, tart cherries, and peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and pears. It is also known for its innovative business approach, growing markets through UPick, delivery to retail farmers markets and supermarkets, and servicing CSAs.
“Jim was one of the first value added growers in the state and is looked to statewide and nationally for his marketing prowess,” said CCE Executive Director Chris Watkins. “And he is very generous in sharing his expertise with others.”
In addition to his work on the farm, Bittner is president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau as well as secretary and treasurer for the Western New York Cherry Producers Cooperative (which he helped establish in 1991). He is also on the Agricultural Advisory Committees of Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Chris Collins and is past president of the New York Horticulture Society and the Barker Lions Club.
Bittner’s relationship with Extension can be traced back to his childhood spent in the 4-H program, with his parents serving as club leaders. In 1974, the Bittners received the 4-H family of the year award.
“I wouldn’t be the person or farmer I am today without 4-H,” said Bittner.
A 1980 graduate of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bittner’s devotion to farming has mirrored his support of Cornell and Extension, specifically CCE of Niagara County. His many roles with CCE Niagara include time spent as a 4-H volunteer, association treasurer and board president from 2001 to 2002.
Bittner was also on hand in 2003 for the launch of the New York Farm Viability Institute (then known as the Ag Innovation Center at Cornell). Eight years later, he was elected board president of the farmer-led non-profit, which provides grant funds for applied research and outreach education projects designed to help farms increase profits.
In 2012, Bittner deepened his support of CCE by becoming the New York delegate to the Council for Agriculture, Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET). Utilizing an integrated advocacy approach, CARET’s mission is to increase support for the land-grant system and secure necessary funding for research, extension and teaching.
“Jim’s leadership in these arenas has contributed greatly to the support of the applied research and extension programs of CCE educators across the state,” said Watkins. “He really is – and has long been – a true friend of extension.”
RJ Anderson works in the Communcations Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.