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Protecting the farmlands

Surveys to help Essex County with new agricultural plan

A shopper stops by the Reber Rock Farm table at the 2018 Adirondack Harvest Festival in Westport. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — If you live in Essex County and have a relationship with local agriculture, staff members at the county’s Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Lewis want to hear from you.

You could be a farmer or farm land owner; a restaurant, catering or food service chef, manager or owner; or a resident. CCE of Essex County officials have three online surveys — one for each of these groups — to help them draft a strategic plan for agriculture in the county. The working title is the “Farmland Protection Strategic Plan.”

“With the strategic planning process, the most important part is the grassroots effort of hearing the voices of the stakeholders,” said Carly Summers, agriculture resource educator for the county’s Cornell Cooperative Extension office. “It’s meant to be informed by the community and the farmers themselves.”

Summers will eventually take the results of the survey and add them to other information gathered in the strategic planning process to draft the plan. Stakeholders will get a chance to review and comment on the draft before it is finalized and presented to the Essex Count Board of Supervisors. The board could have a plan by the end of the year, she said.

The 10-year strategic plan will, in part, serve as a guidance document for the Board of Supervisors as they craft local legislation, according to Summers.

Pictured from left are agriculture protection planner Jeff Kehoe with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, Essex County Cornell Cooperative Extension Agriculture Resource Educator Carly Summers, Juniper Hill Farm owner Adam Hainer, North Country Creamery co-owner Steven Googin and Asgaard Farm & Dairy co-owner Rhonda Butler at the Hand House in Elizabethtown in December 2019 during an information session on the county’s new strategic plan for agriculture. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Having online surveys is a byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Normally the strategic planning process would involve several in-person meetings, and we can’t do that,” Summer said.

During an informational meeting in December 2019 to kick off the strategic plan, Summers said the process of writing the plan would cost about $100,000, with $50,000 from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, $10,000 from Essex County and $40,000 through in-kind services. The process is a collaboration among the CCE and other organizations, such as the Adirondack Land Trust.

The county’s last strategic plan for farmland was approved in 1997 and led to the formation in 2001 of Adirondack Harvest, a program administered by CCE that connects the public with the agricultural community of the North Country. It features an online map of farms, food and drink producers, farmers markets and more at https://adirondackharvest.com.

During the December 2019 meeting, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland, a farmer himself, said the county is looking for more ideas to come out of the new plan.

Goats at Asgaard Farm & Dairy in AuSable Forks (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“We want to think big,” he said. “As both fourth-generation and straight-out-of-college farmers know, farming is tenuous. There are challenges with farming in the North Country. This is going to be a kind of unification of the economic sector of agriculture, with government support and citizen support.”

CCE officials say that agriculture and the food system was one of the only growing sectors in the North Country economy over the past 10 years, citing the North Country Regional Economic Development Council’s 2018 report.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in local food production and awareness of the need for resilience in our food supply,” she added.

Essex County’s 1997 strategic plan can be found at the CCE of Essex County’s Farmland Protection page, http://essex.cce.cornell.edu/agriculture/farmland-protection.

Sheep at Blue Pepper Farm in Jay (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Farmland surveys

The surveys are tailored for three different audiences in Essex County. Each takes about 5 to 10 minutes to fill out.

– Farmers and farmland owners. The goal is to reach every farmer and farmland owner in the county — people who own farmland, even if they are not leasing it to a farmer or farming it themselves.

Find the survey here: https://forms.gle/dxpPyxWfz6mmde6b6.

– Restaurant, catering, and food service chefs, managers & owners.

Find the survey here: https://forms.gle/5D9RxK2LSN2cSWde6.

– Essex County residents. All Essex County residents are invited to take the survey, including farmers, farmland owners and food service affiliates who also take the other surveys.

Find the survey here: https://forms.gle/P8HhERqLUD6maTjT6.

CCE officials would like to interview people who are part of the food system and not included in the surveys above — for instance, a value-added producer, co-op or grocery affiliate. Contact CCE officials at 518-962-4810 to set up a time.