Farmer’s Meeting Notes

Bram Moreinis, Clermont Steering Committee

NOTE: These are my narrative notes, unapproved by the attendees. They are offered for information purposes only, and I do not certify their accuracy. If I have misquoted anyone, please let me know: 518-537-3448.

Attending Farmers: [ Verify Names?]

26 Sign-ins

Jim Potts

Al Jantzen

John Saulpaugh

Cathy Hettling

Bill Banks

Chuck Abraham

Mandy Fuchs, Sr

Irving Minkewicz

Bob Quierolo

Chuck Larsen

Ray Tousey

Thomas Cunningham

John Walston

Joe Palumbo

Scott Winter

Bruce Unsen

Don Delaurentiz

Dianne O’Neal

CJ & Tom Nardi

Fany & Sherry Diehl

Oliver C. Diehl

John Myers

[Angela Areta]

[Paul Bengtold]

[Mary Jane Hercks]

Sid & Beth Meade

Bob Desmond’s Intro:   40% of Clermont is now owned by farmers. Our goal includes preserving community agriculture.  What can we do?

The Future of Agriculture: 
Tom Nardi: Houses are going up in value, so big plots are for sale.  The market wants houses and is closing in on open space.
John Myers: Everything (particularly the prices of commodity crops) conspires to make profits low for farmers.  Fuel fertilizers, pesticides, labor costs increase faster than the profit margins.  Farmers must reach out beyond the town markets.
John Cunningham:  Does Zoning permit fenced pasture within 250 feet of the property line?  Or is that considered corrals? 
Ray Tousey: If our population is growing, then the market is increasing.  We must switch from commodity crops to specialty crops.  The disposable income is increasing,  Cornell Cooperative Extension is still here to help farmers plan and produce what people want.
Irving Minkewicz: My growing is defined by the need of the CIA.  I find a niche.  We need to contact politicians and have them pass laws that all public institutions should buy local (e.g. Adventists Home, Bard, Columbia Memorial).  This will grow the local economy.  I sell to restaurants.
Chuck Abraham: The methods of distribution are key.  There was a luncheon at bard about produce quality recently – they’re the 3rd largest of my customers.  They require produce be packed a certain way and delivered on a regular schedule.  We need to grow the range of crops Bard needs so they don’t get into contracts with others instead.  Also, Bard requires that we offer American Express.  Question: How do you market to “high value” clients like Bard and the consumers, and then meet their expectations as well as what the competition can offer?  We need to market to institutions that require the packaging associated with high value products.  Davenport Farms provides a constant flow of well-packaged product – they are our competitors for these institutional markets.
Bob Quierolo: Niche markets won’t preserve our open spaces – they don’t require the acreage we have.  What niche products can save our large acreage?  That’s the question.
John: If everyone went after the niches markets, we’d have a veggie war and that would drive prices down. Most niche farms use 15-20 acres.

20 Years from Now, Who’s Still Farming?
Chuck Abraham: I deeded my land in a PDR to the Land Conservancy for tax relief.  Selling PDR’s will generate income if we have the buyers.  I understand Clermont Farms PDR was recently bought by Scenic Hudson. We need to locate purchasers and facilitate the process for those who want to bequeath farming to Clermont.  Scenic Hudson is currently working with 3-4 farmers – they’re focusing on Clermont.
Irving Minkewicz: You need big families to keep farms going.  Who’s got the kids interested in this?
Chuck Abraham: Sales is a key element.  30 million people are in reach of easy sales.  We could do commodity crops if we had secretaries, coordinators, accountants, price-setters – basically, a non-profit corporation to level the prices and grade the products as it goes out into distribution, and send profits back proportionally to all members.
Mandy Fuchs, Sr: In PA, there was a Co-op in the 70’s called Green Mountain Fruit Association.  They gave farmers guidance and paid 2/3 of market value, holding the last third to give out at the end of the year to members whose products came out at bad times for the market.  They blended the price to lessen the impact of market competition on prices.  In Livingston, there used to be an Agway where big growers sold their Mac apples because they controlled when they’d sell.  They helped with the four big pieces – packaging, distribution, delivery and sales.
Chuck Abraham: If we count our own and our families’ labor as an expense, our model is not working – we’re not profitable.  We can’t hire people to take over from family members and still survive.  In other parts of the world, there are scalable models of high value products – vine ripened tomatoes from Holland, for example.  But those are government subsidized.  In Italy, the government owns the packaging and distribution points for the produce, and does the marketing.   A farmer’s market is not scalable or sustainable all year round.  We need a friendly marketing organization to help us sell.
Charley Larson: there are four board members of the Farm Bureau here.  What do they have to say about government help?  I understand that there was government support for Clermont Fruit Packers, who took the money and left.   Milbrook Market has expanded tremendously because of Dutchess County’s lobbying for agriculture. We need the Farm Bureau to be a lobbying organization for us.
Check Abraham: Hawthorne Valley does the NYC markets very well.  Their employees make the difference by knowing the science of growing organically.  The “Biodynamic” niche is what sells in NYC.  However, they are also highly subsidized by Waldorf education.  We would need new growing habits to get into that market.
Ray Tousey: Remember a marketing coop run out of Blue Roof?  It began with a $50K grant for distribution.  But farmers didn’t bring their promised goods to the co-op – they sold to the highest bidder and shorted the orders.  It is important to sell our service as well as our products – we need to become service oriented. Kokas & Greer: run Upstate farms.  They have a fleet of trucks who distribute their produce.  “Jobbers” who take commissions are reliable and quality controlled.  They get the remainder of orders from the Bronx if local supply is short.  We need to connect to distributors who get crops from all seasons.  The distributor who can guarantee products year round at a consistent grade gets the high $$$ - more than the farmers get. 
Chuck Abraham: Used to write software for food distributors.  Brokers stand between sellers and distributors.   They assemble the runs, the pallet pickups and truck routing across the country.  A big chuck of the price of apples goes to management of these things.  Growers use brokers for produce they can’t sell directly themselves.  Joe Angelo, the new fruit packer in town specializes in Organics.  This is a good market.  Susan Lyne markets herbs.  In Niche markets, quality is the key element.  We should invite Joe to talk at our next get together about this.
Mandy Fuchs, Sr: Farms produce 66% of the town’s tax base, paying school tax back on their buildings, land and trees.  Red Hook Schools is causing the development pressure.  Andy Marchesio let the Germantown Co-op rot, and that was the way the Town and insurance companies wanted it – they didn’t want the local chemical repositories there.  Bill Cahill wanted to put in commercial uses in that land, but is also being blocked.  We should approach investors to make our town more like Rhinebeck or Millbrook.  We need Horse People. Hay is the cheapest crop to produce, and preserves open space.   Dairy and grains can be grown for cows, but you need 3-400 cows for a profitable dairy farm.  Who asks IGA or Hannaford where the Columbia County products are?  We should demand local produce.  We tried to get a needed oil extruder here, but nobody helped.  Oil-producing crops would absorb all the open unfarmed acreage.  We could also use a slaughterhouse, but people don’t want that. 
John Ralston: I run the Rockefeller Farm, and we do cattle.  We hire people to manage the farms – service companies, niche markets, processing plants.  This region is perfect for growing grass for grass-fed beef – the grass is very nutritious here. We should be promoting organic, grass-fed beef.  But we need a company to process and distribute.  Labor and benefits costs makes it hard to make a profit.
Chuck Abraham: Valley Farmers have a beef co-op, with grass fed beef.  That’s a hard job.  He gave them 10 head of cattle, and made $15/lb for steak, $6-9/lb for ground. They can’t meet the demand for local beef.  We really need a service company to market our local products, like heritage turkeys.
Thomas Cunningham: The thoroughbred racehorse industry is the one growing fast around here.  We need to change the zoning to promote 1-acre clustering and open space.
Mandy Fuchs, Sr: You can’t have open land on existing farms without investors for PDR’s or other such products.  We need to incentivize clustering.  A bigger tax base is provided by them, with more affordable housing, and more economical infrastructure, and less pollution if they have their own septic systems.  The biggest polluter is houses.  Clusters can’t keep their sewer systems going, and then the county needs to take them over.  We need long term plans for clustering.  If the Board of Health is approving bad systems, we need to lobby them.  We need to find venture capitalists if agriculture can be profitable here – but without a good business plan, we won’t get venture capital. 

How do we balance serving the residents and agriculture in the corridor?
The new plan allows existing infrastructure to be converted to non-agricultural uses.

Survey Return Results (14/26)

1. Are you and/or your farm actively engaged in agricultural business?  YES
2. Categorize you agricultural involvement.

3. Indicate type(s) of agricultural activities: Ag equipment repair
Livestock: Fruit: Field Crops:
  1. Corn                111
  2. Soybeans                1
  3. Hay/straw 1111111
  4. Wheat 1
  5. Rye
  6. Vegetables 1
  7. Other: Oats 1

4. Comment on the future of agriculture in Clermont.
  1. Fruit farms at standstill / veg farms doing well. 
  2. Farmers have to grow based on demand.
  3. Lure a distributor to set up shop here
  4. Lots of houses going up.
  5. Houses going up fast.
  6. Endangered
  7. Scary
  8. We have lost our farm infrastructure – e.g. feed stores.
  9. Only hobby farmers and green market farms will remain.
  10. More animals
5. Comment on the future of you own farm.
  1. Scenic Hudson will save open space, but few farmers will take the offer.
  2. Now part time – want to be self-sustaining.
  3. Staying the same.
  4. Though strongly committed to preserving agriculture, I need farmers to farm my land.
  5. Will continue to expand training of horses, try to maintain current boarding/breeding business, always remain agricultural.
  6. Remove fruit – sell farm or divide.
6. Comment on what services/activities in the Hamlets or on the Route 9 corridor that would be support and encourage continued agricultural business in Clermont.
  1. Next meeting should be weekend with better notification and engagement of weekenders.
  2. Involve Scenic Hudson as conservancy. Form new farmer’s union.  Increase tax incentives and adjustments to landowners who have farming done by members of a registered group with a major spokesperson (like Becky) who can bridge both life and work styles.  Go more organic in a percentage of niche farming.  Retain a PR person to present picture to the farmers.
  3. Use Town Center to create a destination for school, business activities.
  4. A farm market, distribution center for local produce, better communication amongst farmers/landowners, more [proactive] support from town government for farmers.
  5. Need a clearing committee for sale of development rights.  Review zoning to incentivize clustering.  Look to possible horse operations coo-op marketing plan.
  6. Encourage horse farms.  Change into another Rhinebeck/Millbrook.