Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Farm Aid Upstate-Downstate Food and Farm Caravan Blog


By Hank Herrera
Managing Director, New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

September 3, 2007 – Labor Day
Syracuse and Lodi, New York

After months of planning, the Farm Aid Upstate-Downstate Food and Farm Caravan got off to an enthusiastic start on Labor Day at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. The caravan will showcase New York State food and farms, innovations in family farming and statewide efforts to increase access for all New York State consumers to good, fresh food grown on New York State family farms.

Mark Smith, Farm Aid’s Campaign Director, leads the caravan. The caravan includes a huge refrigerator truck to pick up fresh food from fourteen farms along the caravan route. We will deliver the food to the Farm Aid HOMEGROWN Concert that will take place next Sunday, September 9, on Randall’s Island in New York City. The food we bring to New York City will go to the caterers feeding over one thousand folks backstage who make the concert happen. Foodlink, the Second Harvest regional foodbank in Rochester, donated the truck along with its driver, Maxie Cohen. I will write about and photograph the farmers, the farms, the food and the adventures as we wind our way throughout New York State on the way to New York City.

Early Monday morning, Mark, Maxie, and Jessica Chittenden of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets met at the Pride of New York display to set up for the kick-off press conference. Carroll Wade, an organic dairy farmer from Steuben County, joined the group. Carroll is Chair of the New York State American Dairy Association and Dairy Council and President of the National Farmers’ Organization in New York State. Carroll sells his milk through Organic Valley to a local processor, Byrne Dairy that sells to local consumers in the Syracuse area and throughout Central New York. Dick DeGraff and Vic Ladd-DeGraff brought fresh organic vegetables from their Grindstone Farm in Pulaski, New York, north of Syracuse. Grindstone has consumer-supported agriculture operation. Jim Farr, President of the New York State Farmers’ Market Federation, also brought veggies from their booth at the Fair. Vic arranged a great display of these beautiful vegetables.

As fairgoers poured through the gates for the last day of the fair, Mark introduced Patrick Hooker, New York State Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets. Commissioner Hooker welcomed Farm Aid to New York State and thanked Farm Aid for making this special effort to build awareness of the strength and value of New York State agriculture. Commissioner Hooker introduced State Senator David Valesky and State Assemblywoman Joan Christensen. Carroll, Dick and Jim all made comments, emphasizing the sheer size and importance of NYS agriculture—over $1.2 billion dollars in farm gate revenue from dairy alone—and the critical role of consumers who can demand and get more local New York State food.

After the press event we loaded the vegetables on the truck and headed to our next stop, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars in Lodi, New York. We drove through the gently rolling terrain between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, two of the beautiful Finger Lakes, to get there, and then stood at the edge of the vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake—a striking vista even though the sky had become overcast.

Lamoreaux Landing is an estate winery, which means that it grows the grapes for its wine on its own farmland—the essence of local agriculture for a value-added product. It is also a farm winery in New York State terminology because it produces less than 20,000 cases per year. We visited the wine cellar and saw the white oak barrels aging the red wine and the two-story tall stainless steel tanks aging the white wines. We saw how the winemakers make sparkling wine by turning each bottle by hand twice every day.

Earlier this year Lamoreaux Landing earned the Double Gold and Best of Class awards for their 2005 Chardonnay and 2005 Chardonnay Reserve at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Mark purchased three cases to bring to New York City.

Before we left we visited the vineyard to taste the pinot noir and gew├╝rztraminer grapes nearing full ripeness on the vine. Even now the grapes are sweet and tasty. We left the winery with a deep appreciation for the incredible investment that local farmers, food producers and vintners put into their farms and production facilities. Local food just doesn’t happen. Real people—local farmers—invest their entire lives in their farms and farm products. They bring passion and pioneering spirit to their work. They bring persistence and maybe even stubbornness to the myriad of obstacles and problems that get in the way of producing and selling their outstanding products in the marketplace. They so deserve the honor and respect that Willie, John, Dave and Neil and all the performers bring to them each year with the concert. Today was a good day. Tomorrow in Rochester we will meet some special people who get a chance to eat good local food and some special farmers.

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