( Column 16 / 2002)

"The Lost Valleys"...by...Ron Gladkowski

          "A commentary about creative people living in the small communities scattered through the hills and valleys of Central New York"
          Published in The County Review

Chenango Harvest Fest

           Because of my interest in the land and gardening, and a philosophy of supporting and encouraging individual enterprise in Central New York, I was attracted by a flyer I picked up at Hand's Inn in Norwich, NY. It announced the first annual Chenango Harvest Fest on October 12th. The festival was put together by the Agricultural Development Council through the Chenango County Cornell Cooperative Extension, and included local regional, and out of state speakers, a great lunch prepared with healthy local grown food and musical entertainment by local musicians. There were exhibits by small agriculture related businesses, and organizations from Chenango County, including vegetables, fruit, maple syrup, and even wine.
           References were made to a book by E.F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. "This book argues that an economic system in which food and goods are produced locally for local consumption is inherently more accountable to the unique social and ecological conditions of a region. This reasoning challenges prevailing economic theory that bigger is better, especially relating to the production and consumption of local foods and goods."
           The focus of the speakers and a panel discussion was on what can be done to make small scale agriculture sustainable in Chenango County. How can someone who makes a commitment to living on, and making a living off the land, survive? They discussed ways to overcome the obstacles which forced the decline of farming in the past, and continues to threaten the rural lifestyle, and the economy of the area.
           I discovered a commonality between these small farm related businesses, and area artists. Both find pleasure in the work they do, and struggle with many of the same problems in order to market the fruits of their labor. Reaching customers without the need for expensive advertising campaigns, high transportation and marketing costs, or time consuming travel, are just some of the obstacles to overcome. We can't compete with the large business operations that have the budgets that allow them to overshadow small producers, so we have to come up with creative solutions to level the playing field.
           Supporting local producers is not the same as purchasing from local merchants. Local merchants, in an effort to be more price competitive, often have no control over quality, while local producers can only compete by providing the finest quality possible, and this attention to quality costs a little more. An old farmers saying applies here: "Quality oats sell for a fair price. If you don't mind oats that have already been through the horse, they come a bit cheaper."
           Ideally, this community would understand the importance of supporting local small enterprise, be it agriculture, art, craft, or skilled trades. They would appreciate the ability to obtain quality products and services within the community. However, surveys of buying habits show that this is not happening. Often people don't recognize the value of local purchasing, both in supporting local producers of quality products, and building a strong community economy. The answer, it seems, is in Educating the public in an effort to build a strong local customer base. We need to make people aware of what is available, who the producers are, and where the products are available. If you want more information about the festival, availability of local products, or can help spread the word about all the fine products available in Chenango County, you can contact the Agricultural Development Council at the Chenango County Cornell Cooperative Extension at 334-5841. To learn more about creative people in Central New York, visit the Lost Valleys website at www.lostvalleys.com.

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