To market: Farmers wanted for grassroots local food hub

Above: Garlic from Lucky Dog Farm in Hamden -- a hot commodity in New York City, where the demand for local food is huge and growing. 

Farmers who would like to tap into the lucrative New York City wholesale market are invited to Lucky Dog Farm in Hamden on Monday, April 8 at 2pm, where farmers and agriculture advocates will be talking about creating a local food hub to get more Catskills produce to downstate markets.

Lucky Dog farmer Richard Giles has enlisted educators from the Oneonta-based Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE) to come down and fill in attendees about the processes involved in becoming market-ready for wholesale distribution.

“CADE has traditionally been more involved in Otsego County and the Southern Tier; we’re happy to be entering the Catskills domain,” said executive director Rebecca Morgan. “All we are being asked to contribute here is expertise. Richard Giles has a large refrigerated truck that he takes down to the wholesale market in NYC every week, and there is room on the truck. The idea is to fill it, get local products into a market where there is ideally a better rate of return.”

Participants will learn the ins and outs of wholesale-readiness, how to coordinate their growing and processing schedules to ensure high quality, consistency, and quantity to the buyers.

“Farmers need to analyze their capacity to scale up, look at wholesale possibilities, and do a financial analysis that is farm-specific,” said Morgan.

In rural upstate New York, a fragmented distribution system is a major barrier between small farms and the downstate markets that are hungry for their wares. Lately, policymakers and agricultural researchers have been exploring the idea of regional food hubs as a way to boost farm sales and give markets better access to small-farm produce.

The hub concept recently received a major boost from the state. In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office announced $3.6 million in funding to the creation of four regional food hubs; the nearest, in Kingston, will be developed through existing organizations Farm-to-Table Co-Packers and Hudson Valley Harvest.

But the geography and economy of rural Delaware County call for a different approach.

“Cuomo put money into existing large-scale operations,” Morgan said. “This is much more from the bottom up, which is what is needed to grow a food hub in a region this spread out. This is not about tons of grants and loans. The cooler space in the Lucky Dog barn is being increased. Richard will look to fill the truck he has, and bring another truck as needed -- not build an infrastructure and then try to fill it.”

Some sources estimate the demand of the metro area for local food to be near the billion-dollar mark.

“I’m not sure where that exact estimate came from,” said Morgan, “but conservatively, the demand is up there in the hundreds of millions. We have it, they want it. Let’s do this.”

Lucky Dog Farm, 35796 Route 10, Hamden. Monday, 4.8.2013, 2pm. For more information, call CADE at 607-433-2545.