ARCADIA — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told a group of farmers and Wayne County legislators last week that she is fighting hard for adoption of a new Farm Bill that will benefit New Yorkers and be especially important to Wayne County-area growers of specialty crops.
Standing in the backyard pavilion of the Apple Shed store and farm, and sampling grapes conveniently adorning a cornucopia on the table in front of her, Gillibrand said the upcoming bill would be critical for Wayne County’s future.
As the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in 40 years, Gillibrand told her audience last Tuesday, Aug. 20 that this was a “great opportunity for your voices to be heard in Washington.”
In touring farms across the state, “I heard a lot about the challenges and how we can create new markets,” she said. The new Farm Bill up for adoption maintains subsidies for “commodity” crops (any crops that are traded, like corn, and are regulated under the Farm Bill). Gillibrand said she will emphasize that “specialty crops,” like those grown right on the Apple Shed’s acres (fruits, vegetables, honey, horticulture products), need to be included. Specialty crops bring $1.4 billion in business to the state every year – one-third of New York’s agriculture industry. Gillibrand supports the $55 million Specialty Crop Block Grants that encourage research, grower education, consumer outreach and market development. The senator said she wants to help farmers connect their fresh produce with new markets. Where fresh produce is rare, she is pressing the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to help create more grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food co-ops and other mechanisms to bring produce from the farms to consumers in those “food deserts,” such as inner cities with few grocery stores.
“How do you go about connecting farmers with ‘deserts’?” asked Huron Supervisor Laurie Crane.
“Give grants to people who want to open a market,” Gillibrand said. “Give incentives for supermarkets or farm stands to carry fresh foods.”
She said a “food hub” strategy, kind of a warehouse for fresh produce collected from area farms ready to ship elsewhere, “is another way for farmers to distribute their crops.”
Beth Claypool, executive director of the Wayne County Cornell Cooperative Extension, said there was one hub already forming in Ontario, with four or five more in development stages in the state.
“When you have the packaging set up, you just need to meet the specifics of the guy who is going to sell (the produce),” Gillibrand said.
Duane Crandon of Lyons asked if the Farm Bill would separate ag policy from the SNAP (food and nutrition program; food stamps). “Why not just split the two?” he asked. “Don’t hold up the farmers.”
Gillibrand explained that the federal food assistance program is much larger than the Ag program.
“If the bill were just farming, we would be marginalizing the farm program and have very little long-term power.
“Growing food is important for the culture and the economy, but the purpose of farming is also to feed people,” she said. “Half the people on food stamps are children; the next largest group is seniors, and next is veterans and active-duty armed services personnel, some of whom don’t get paid very much. ... I think the House of Representatives is wrong (to attempt to split the farm Bill). That will hurt people.”