Local Agriculture Leaders to Guide Regional Independent Food Processing Business Plan Schoharie County, NY
(November 22, 2021) – On November 10, 2021, Schoharie Economic Enterprise Corporation (SEEC) launched the Farm and Food Advisory Council as part of an initiative to create a Regional Independent Food Processing Business Plan. This project has been funded, in part, by the Appalachian Regional Commission and coordinated by SEEC alliance, Southern Tier 8.
The project has been allocated public and private funds totaling $56,500, allowing a third-party consultant to be hired to develop the business plan. To guide the consultant and ensure the plan meets the needs of the local food production and distribution network, SEEC has invited representatives with expertise ranging throughout the food supply chain.
“We all witnessed the dairy and protein processing challenges that were exasperated during COVID,” remarked Julie Pacatte, SEEC Executive Director. “We understand many factors play a part and we do not expect to find a silver bullet but, together, we will come out with a plan that supports the farms of our region.”
SEEC has been recruiting council volunteers since the summer. The volunteer Farm and Food Advisory Council members who met earlier November represent agricultural pillars in the community and region such as multigenerational and new Independent Farmers, SUNY Cobleskill’s Institute for Rural Vitality, the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship, local Future Farmers of America Advisors, New York and Schoharie County Farm Bureau, New York State Vegetable Growers Association, Hudson Valley Food System Coalition, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Community Planning & Environmental Associates, Southern Tier 8, and farmland protection plan representatives of Schoharie, Delaware and Otsego Counties.
The kick-off meeting encouraged each volunteer to express their interest in the project. One member expressed his interest to organize so the region may secure a share of the USDA $500 Million for Expanded Meat & Poultry Processing, while another identified cold storage needs, and yet, others were explicit about immediate dairy farm transitions redirecting available milk supplies to local consumers. Members also raised awareness of a long-term Vision 2050 strategic plan for New York State food systems and the newly adopted “Nourish New York” program. Recently signed into law by Governor Hochul, Nourish New York is intended to broaden markets for local agriculture producers and processors by purchasing surplus agriculture goods for New York food banks.
“We will learn from each member as we approach the process as a for-profit model based on market realities,” added Pacatte. The impact of the Farm and Food Advisory Council’s efforts should result in the stabilization of the agricultural economic market of the region, ensuring that local farmers are supported and given opportunities to expand in production and distribution.
The kick-off meeting further acknowledged this is as a narrowly focused and timely effort. The fundamental premise is a response to the COVID crisis, which created more urgency to look at past plans and emphasized market opportunities. The project is expected to be expedited due to the resources on hand and the assistance of a business planning expert that will conduct interviews, prepare a market analysis, identify value propositions, management, and funding needs. A request for proposal from business planning consultants will be issued by yearend.
Members of the Farm and Food Advisory Council include Jim Barber, Taylor Bogardus, Seth Browe, Ann Diefendorf, Scott Ferguson, Deb Fletcher, Todd Heyn, Shelly Johnson-Bennett, Desiree Keever, Bill Kuhl, Dorothy Richter, Sarah Salem, Phoebe Schreiner, Duane Spaulding, Nan Stolzenburg, Alicia Terry, Myron Thurston III, John VanDerwerken, and Marilyn Wyman.
SEEC welcomes other Project Contributors to share their expertise via questionnaires, surveys, interviews, and/or focus groups to shape a viable Regional Independent Food Processing initiative.