March 6, 2019 In The News

The Daily Star: Rep. Delgado forms farm advisory panel

Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, announced Monday the formation of an agricultural advisory committee for New York’s 19th Congressional District.

Comprising 40 farmers and agriculture leaders from every county in the district, the committee was formed to assist the congressman in developing strategies to improve congressional support for small farms upstate, according to a media release.

“The best ideas on how we can empower farmers come not from Washington, but from those who actually live and breathe these issues every day in our district. We can’t work through solutions to the challenges that family farms are facing without conversations like the ones I’ll be having with this Advisory Committee at the local level,” Delgado said in the release.

Encompassing all of Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties, as well as parts of Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties, the 19th Congressional District is home to more than 5,000 farms and 8,000 farm operations. It is the eighth most-rural district in the country and the third most-rural district represented by a Democrat, according to the release.

“All over our district we’ve got small, local farms that are so vital to our way of life in Upstate and to our economy,” Delgado said in the release, adding that he intends to prioritize small- and mid-tier family-owned farms that are “too often marginalized by Congress.”

The committee includes representation from the Greater Catskills, Hudson Valley and Leatherstocking chapters of the Young Farmers Coalition, as well as leaders from a dozen Cornell Cooperative Extension programs throughout the district, including David Cox, agriculture program leader at the CCE of Schoharie and Otsego counties, and CCE-Delaware executive director Jeanne Darling.

Also represented are a number of local and community farms throughout The Daily Star’s coverage area, including Ben Tyler and Greta Zaro of the Unadilla Community Farm and Schoharie County residents Dave Raylinsky of Highland Hollow Farm, and Nan and Mark Stolzenburg.

Delgado was appointed to the House Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee shortly after taking office in January. Early rounds of town hall meetings throughout the district focused on the region’s agricultural issues, including localized infrastructure, technology needs and sustainable farming practices.

“Agriculture is at the center of the upstate economy. It’s important that our elected officials, regardless of party, pay close attention to realities on the ground and what’s at stake for farmers in the district. We hope that regular dialogue with the Committee will better equip him to address needs,” said committee member Phoebe Schreiner, executive director of the Oneonta-based Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship.

Schreiner is joined on the committee by fellow CADE board members Tianna Kennedy, co-owner of Star Route Farm in Charlotteville, and Mark Davies, an education professor at Hartwick College.

Davies, who also serves as coordinator of the school’s environment, sustainability and society program, said he spent several years studying the region’s so-called “foodshed,” considering its challenges and barriers to growth. Given the rural district’s close proximity to large metropolitan areas, Davies said he hopes the committee will explore opportunities to create a food infrastructure and advocate for better distribution networks for farmers, adding that he intends to promote incentives to increase farm production, such as funding grants for family farms, and tackle the issue of farms transitioning to younger generations.

“Farmers are an aging population, and while there are younger farmers looking to get into the industry, many find it cost-prohibitive,” he said.

Also appointed to the committee was Delaware County resident Jeff Potent, a professor at Columbia University who teaches courses in sustainable development and agriculture through the school’s Earth Institute, and Jason R. Evans, a SUNY Cobleskill professor and director of the Institute for Rural Vitality.

“Agriculture is central to our history, culture and livelihoods in the Mohawk Valley,” Evans said in the release. “There are real opportunities now for reshaping the regional agricultural economy and making it more robust for future generations of farm and food entrepreneurs. But there are also complex challenges, and policy will undoubtedly play a role in understanding and overcoming those.”

While some policies may seek to overcome challenges in the farm industry, others may be considered obstacles themselves.

Schoharie County Farm Bureau President John VanDerwerken said he intends to raise concerns over the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act being debated in the state Legislature.

If enacted, the bill would grant collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits to New York state farmworkers, who have been exempt from such policies. It would also extend certain labor protections, including an eight-hour workday and mandatory time-and-a-half compensation for overtime.

“What [policymakers] don’t understand is that workers are working more than that because they want to,” VanDerwerken said.

Calling the policy “detrimental,” he added that requiring farm owners to pay overtime rates could put many farms out of business.

VanDerwerken will join the presidents of 10 other Farm Bureau chapters throughout the district, including Duane Martin of Delaware County and Paul Greer of Otsego County, to serve on Delgado’s committee.

“I’m glad just to be at the table and make sure our position is heard and understood,” VanDerwerken said.