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Increasing Local Food Consumption in the Catskill Mountains

An overview of Pure Catskills, an economic initiative of the Watershed Agricultural Council

By Challey Comer

For the past seven years, the Pure Catskills campaign, an economic initiative of the Watershed Agricultural Council, has been helping to educate our community about local foods of the Catskills region.

Last spring, Pure Catskills staff organized a Farm to Market Conference at SUNY-Delhi. Photo provided by Pure Catskills

Components of the program include print and online guides to local farm and food-based businesses, branding efforts using the Pure Catskills label, grant programs for business owners and community organizations and ongoing outreach.

This year’s print guide, the Pure Catskills Guide to Farm Fresh Products, was our largest yet including 70-pages and 200 listings.  Businesses included in the listings were farms, retailers, farmer’s markets, restaurants and community organizations working on agriculturally-related projects from the Catskill Mountain region.  The guide also includes a calendar section of farm and food events across the region.  Every farm that has ever been included in the print guide also has an extended, searchable listing at www.purecatskills.com.  Additional features of the webpage include a web calendar, farmer profiles, an interactive map of business members and a wholesale directory.

Successful events are an important and fun way to educate the public about the benefits and availability of local foods.  Each year, Pure Catskills offers $50,000 in sponsorship funding toward regional events that help increase the connection between the public and local farmers.  In 2009, two dozen businesses and organizations received awards for events focused on everything from zucchini to wool products.

Pure Catskills also works with community partners to organize special events.  During September, the buy local campaign teamed up with Farm Catskills on a “Buy Local Challenge,” a month-long promotion in which the public pledged their support for local food.  By the end of the month, 286 people pledged a total of $207,452 toward food choices benefitting our local agricultural economy.  Given that each dollar spent on local food circulates through a local economy three to seven times, an estimated $622,356 to $1,452,164 remained in our region, just from those pledges!

Spinach and Peas at Gills Farm in the Catskills. Photo provided by Pure Catskills

Also during Buy Local Month, Farm Catskills sponsored two screenings of the film. “Food, Inc.”  The screenings were successful in education people about where how the mass market food system works. The Oneonta screening sold out and the Walton screening attracted over 150 community members.

To help local food businesses develop new production methods and marketing efforts, educational workshops are regularly offered.  Last spring, Pure Catskills staff organized a Farm to Market Conference at SUNY-Delhi which was attended by over 100 farmers, buyers and educators.  The Spring 2010 Conference was a collaborative effort between Pure Catskills, the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE) in Oneonta and the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.  On December 4, through the Council’s Farm to Market Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County, Pure Catskills will host a Beef Marketing Tour to three farms in the Hudson Valley.  The day will include discussions on managing the sales of beef to retailers, restaurants and farmer’s market customers.

Thanks to the suggestions of several farmers, a number of farmer-to-farmer discussion groups met last winter.  Three separate “producer groups” focus on beef, sheep and goat, and dairy.  Farmers meet regularly to discuss “tricks of the trade” and work together on addressing the challenges of their business type.  In the past, farmer’s market manager meetings have also brought together venue coordinators to share ideas and opportunities with their peers.  Gatherings of this type are an effective means by which to grow the network of small farmers and local food business owners in our area.

Pure Catskills encourages consumers to buy local through a Guide advertising farmers markets, restaurants and CSA’s selling local food. Photo provided by Pure Catskills

Opportunities to organize community collaborations are growing.  This winter, Pure Catskills will offer a scholarship program available to its business members to help fund expenses associated with attending conferences and workshops.  With the help of regional partners, we’ll continue to explore new ways to connect our local community with sustainable food systems.  Just last summer, Delaware County organizations including Delaware Opportunities and the Office of the Aging sourced 2,250 pounds of local produce from nine local growers for Senior Meals and food bank needs.  A regional coalition is also launching a program aimed at assisting new and existing farmers and gaining access to vacant farmland.  With so many great happenings in our area coming from a diverse mix of growers, purveyors and community members, the opportunities for local food development continue to grow.

For more information on Pure Catskills, visit www.purecatskills.com.

Challey Comer is the Farm to Market Manager at Pure Catskills. She may be reached at ccomer@nycwatershed.org or (607) 865-7090. Pure Catskills is funded by the Watershed Agricultural Council whose mission is to support the economic viability of agricultural and forestry through the protection of water quality and promotion of land conservation in the New York City Watershed Region. The Council is funded by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, USDA, U.S. Forest Service  and other federal, foundation and private sources. The Council is an Equal Opportunity Provider and Employer. For more information, visit www.nycwatershed.org.

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