To market, to market

If you're a farmer, odds are you don't have $100,000 in your back pocket for an M.B.A. But you've got business problems that would keep Warren Buffett up at night. How do you get your perishable wares to eaters (and, of course, buyers) of food? Finding the best path for a gallon of fresh milk or a crisp sweet apple to take from farm to table is a riddle that vexes longtime farmers and young guns alike. It's also the topic of Farm to Market Connection, a networking conference that's being held in Liberty this Sunday. We tracked down event organizer Challey Comer, farm to market manager of Pure Catskills, a local food campaign run by the Watershed Agricultural Council.

Watershed Post: Local food is a really hot topic right now. Is there any common ground between, say, young Brooklynites raising bees on rooftops and seventh-generation upstate New York dairy farmers?

Challey Comer: You know, we've done this event in Delhi in the past, and I always envisioned it as something that those [city] people would be coming up to. That's why we moved it to Liberty this year — it's meeting halfway. It's exactly 100 miles from the city, it's right off exit 17. It's also an hour and a half from Delhi, so it's not as convenient to the core areas where we're active.

I think there is a connection. I always get these funny comments from people — because I go to the city a lot — it's like the Catskills is this nebulous place. They always ask me like, “Well, are there farms up there? What's up there?” The concept of it is this mysterious thing to some people. For me, that's kind of what the point of Pure Catskills is, to increase the identity of foods from the Catskills.

WP: What are the main food products being made in the Catskills?

CC: The dairies are still really important, and there are still a great number of them. Every year there is a new traditional dairy diversifying its production, getting into things like bottled yogurt or cheese. We have a lot of meat, a lot of beef, things like that. A lot of our vegetable businesses focus on things that are a little cooler-growing, like leafy greens and potatoes and things like that. And we have a lot of specialty food artisans — people baking things, making really great preserves. At this event, we always try to include some kind of commercial kitchen or food processing.

WP: This event is about more than just the Catskills, right?

CC: We tried to focus on New York State. For the growers' panel, we have a multigenerational dairy farm, and we have somebody who just started his own business last year. We have a second-career farmer guy who got out of corporate America and is now one of the most dominant pork producers in the Northeast. We have people working on distribution. We have a local grocery store, we have a farm stand, we have a New York City retailer that only sells American farmstead cheeses. We really tried to mix it up.

The Farm to Market Connection will run from 9am to 5pm at the CVI Building in Liberty. Speakers will include Michael Kokas of Upstate Farms, the Piggery's Heather Sanford and Anne Saxelby of the eponymous Saxelby Cheesemongers in Manhattan.

Photo of nectarines at a Manhattan farmers' market. Credit: / CC BY-SA 2.0