Would an NYC local food hub help North Country farmers?

New York City is involved in increasingly tense negotiations with the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market coop over a new lease.  Hunts Point in the Bronx is the biggest source of fruits and vegetables for the city’s 22 million people.  New Jersey is courting the market, but the coop and the city agreed to keep talking with one another through the end of the month.

It’s not the biggest issue on the negotiators’ docket, but champions of regional food systems see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tie Upstate New York’s farmers into one of the largest food industries in the world.

Right now, Hunts Point doesn’t have a section dedicated to local farmers.  The National Resources Defense Council, actor Mark Ruffalo, and 35 other organizations are spearheading an effort to get a wholesale farmers market included in the new lease negotiations.  As NRDC staffer Johanna Dyer writes in her blog:

Such a market could really benefit struggling farmers and the regional economy. Many of our farmers have the capacity and inclination to supply more local food to the city, with its world-class restaurants, numerous food retailers and enormous public school and hospital systems, but (currently) lack the right venue to do so.

Here’s my question as far as North Country agriculture is concerned.  We certainly have plenty of farmers and available farmland to take advantage of such a massive marketing opportunity.

But are we close enough?  Regional food maps like the one above, developed by Columbia University’s Earth Institute, appear to leave out most of the North Country.

According to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s local foods maven, Bernadette Logozar, only one North Country farm currently sells produce at Hunts Point: Ralph Childs’ farm outside Malone.  I also know of a few meat producers who are selling direct-to-consumer in the NYC area.

As for other farms, Logozar wrote me in an e-mail, “the interest is there but the production levels or final connections haven’t happened yet for the produce side of things.  The livestock farmers are working towards this goal.”

Obviously, the future of Hunts Point is a key factor.  But I wonder if distance would keep North Country agriculture on the outside looking into New York City’s market.  It’s a long drive for individual farmers to haul produce down to the Bronx on a regular basis.  Perhaps farms could organize their own mini-Hunts Point in northern New York that would then send trucks down to the City.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re a farmer thinking about this, or are involved in efforts to tap the NYC market.  Or maybe you’re looking North, to Montreal or Ottawa?

With all those people, many of whom are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from, it seems too good an opportunity to pass up.

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10 Responses to “Would an NYC local food hub help North Country farmers?”

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  1. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I smell a business opportunity for distributors such as Renzi brothers and others who already have the equipment, employees, experience, etc. to provide such a trucking service for the local farmers in upstate, NY. I’ve actually pitched this idea to a local trucking company here in Lewis County on a couple of occasions but to no avail as they are a “manufacturing” transportation service.

    With such a huge market, it would seem plausible that there could be profit enough for the farmers, transportation company, and the market coop itself.

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  2. Colin Powers says:

    As a recent transplant from Essex County to NYC, I miss my North Country local food. But I won’t feel great about food trucked 300 miles when NJ, CT and the Hudson & Mohawk valleys can produce so well. Instead, why doesn’t the North Country look to Montreal and Ottowa? Embrace the food-loving culture to the north.

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  3. tootightmike says:

    An excellent idea Colin, and perhaps another route to easing the giant wall between our countries. The excess miles that our foods travel contribute too much to the atmospheric carbon problem, and that works in both directions. Here in the North Country, far too much of our food comes from the other side of the country if not the other side of the world

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  4. Kirby Selkirk says:

    The Canadian market is all but closed to us, It is almost impossible to sell livestock or meat products across the border under current law and trying to change the laws is not in the short term. We need to target the larger NYS markets as the only practicle solution to building the livestock industry here. We’re a few hours away from the largest market on the continent and have ability to produce much more high quality meat than we can currently sell into that market.
    A food hub is one way to approach this as long as it it farmer driven and not by some anti-farming group like the misnamed national resources defence council.

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  5. David Sommerstein says:

    Hi Kirby! Thanks for chiming in. My question is: then why can I get Quebec strawberries, greens, and all kinds of things here in the North Country, esp. early in the season before our produce is ready? Are there blocks to ag trade to Canad , but not from Canada?

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  6. Peter Hahn says:

    Kirby – Im not sure why it would matter who organized it as long as someone got the meat to the market. Either some budding business entrepreneur has to organizer it – which takes a bunch of money at risk, or some non-profit organization would have to start it as a regional benefit.

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  7. Kirby Selkirk says:

    David, It has to do with their marketing and quota system. Basically, and I’m stetching here, we can sell into there market only when there own supply is enhausted. That is esspecially true with meat and dairy product. I don’t pretend to know the details of it all.

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  8. Kirby Selkirk says:

    Peter,
    It’s simple. It’s about control. If the farmer does’t have control of the quality, the message and most importantly, the money then we may as well just send our livestock to auction and get what ever they bring. Then there is no need for a HUB or any other marketing scheme.

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  9. Peter Hahn says:

    I admit I dont know anything about the business end of it (or the beginning for that matter). But it seems that if there were a way to expand to a new and big market, that would be a good thing. Either NYC or Montreal

    Also – wasnt the point of NAFTA to be able to sell in the other country’s market? Or did they exclude meat and dairy?

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  10. Paul says:

    There is something wrong with the title of this blog???

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