SUZANNE MOORE, News Editor
WESTPORT — A $93,460 grant won by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County is aimed to boost the sale of specialty crops in six northern counties.
The project has two pieces, said Anita Deming, executive director of the Essex County office.
One, she said, is a food-hub connection study that will evaluate how products are delivered with the end result of creation of collection and distribution centers for wholesale specialty crops.
Farmers and their customers, among them stores and restaurants, will be interviewed about their present system.
“We will try to find out how to get the products to the user in the most efficient way,” Deming said on Thursday.
Perhaps multiple producers can share a truck, she suggested, “reduce the energy footprint.”
And then the farmer wouldn’t have to use his or her time or an employee’s time to make deliveries.
“It does happen to some extent now, but not 100 percent,” Deming said.
As well, she said, the distribution of specialty crops tends to follow the north/south route of Interstate 87, and they’d like to see more east/west delivery, as well.
ALL SIX COUNTIES
Specialty crops are such products as fruits and vegetables, maple syrup, honey, herbs and flowers.
They do not include dairy, livestock, beef, grains — “the commodity crops traded on the stock market,” Deming said.
The Cooperative Extension offices in Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis counties will be helping to implement the grant.
“We’re regional for our agriculture stuff,” she said. “If I write a grant, it’s for all six counties.”
And if another Cooperative Extension applies for funding, Essex County is as well.
The larger area racks up more points in grant application evaluation, Deming said.
“And also, we’re not competing against each other for the same funds.”
The grant is part of more than $900,000 in funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004.
Also, Deming said, the funding will be used to increase consumer awareness of local direct-market crops, with local food guides and public service announcements on television.
Training classes will be offered on cooking, canning and storage of specialty crops, along with classes to teach farmers how to accept food programs including WIC.
Other training, according to the abstract for the grant application, will connect farms to chefs and stores that can carry their goods.
And a campaign throughout the region is intended to increase membership in Adirondack Harvest “to highlight the benefits of branding for direct marketers of New York specialty crops,” the abstract says.
Various departments at Cornell University won most of the remaining grants for projects that include an insect, disease and weed management program for organic apples, a hydroponic production system for enhancing potato seed production and development of methods to eliminate the crown gall pathogen from grapevine propagation material.
Deming said the larger communities of Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, Malone, Canton, Watertown and Lowville are targeted in the plan as places to encourage the availability of local foods, though the hope is that many such food hubs will be created.
“There’s one in Long Lake now,” she said.
“We will develop a list of guidelines as a footprint to develop these food hubs.
“It’s a pretty extensive project,” she said of the entire undertaking, “and we’re pretty excited about it.”
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