More New Yorkers will soon benefit from an innovative Cornell Cooperative Extension agriculture program as Harvest NY grows beyond its roots in western New York to support farmers in the northern reaches of the state.
The expansion of the popular program, announced Oct. 6, promises to take advantage of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s significant presence by broadening into areas identified as key to economic development.
Established in 2012, Harvest NY connects farmers and producers with Cornell experts and extension specialists tasked with increasing agricultural investment, profitability and sustainability. Currently serving 16 counties in western New York, the program offers expertise in dairy processing, food safety, local food distribution, marketing, dairy modernization and profitability.
“Harvest NY is an innovative extension initiative, the first of its kind in the country,” said Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “By maximizing the connections that farmers and producers have to the research and resources of Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell is providing unparalleled leadership in economic development in New York’s food and agricultural sectors which has become a model for other states.”
Since its inception, the program has trained 800 workers in dairy food processing, positions crucial to food safety, basic dairy science and the manufacturing of value-added dairy products such as yogurt and artisan cheese. Other Harvest NY initiatives have aimed at spurring demand, such as efforts to serve local agriculture products in Buffalo Public Schools and incentives to match federal food assistance dollars used at farmers’ markets.
With the expansion comes the hope of bringing similar vitality to North Country farmers and interests in the region’s agricultural industry, according to State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-48th Dist.
“Supporting farmers means a stronger economy for rural communities all across upstate New York,” said Ritchie, chair of the senate agriculture committee. “We’ve seen how big of an asset Harvest NY has been to the agriculture industry in the western part of our state, and I’m excited that this important program will soon be making its mark in our region.”
The expansion adds an extra $300,000 to the program from the state budget to fund three agriculture specialist positions serving St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Essex, Clinton and Franklin counties.
Chris Watkins, director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, said the agriculture sector has been a valuable economic engine throughout New York, and he sees Harvest NY as uniquely positioned to spur further growth.
“Agriculture has been a bright spot in the state during a difficult fiscal period and is crucial to a sustainable upstate economy,” Watkins said. “Economic development opportunities exist in the areas of production, processing, marketing, job retention and growth, and business development. Through the expansion of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Harvest NY Initiative, we can build on the momentum of current efforts to enhance New York’s agriculture and food economy in northern New York.
“We need to ensure that our cutting-edge agricultural industries are supplied with the educational support that will maximize success,” he added. “We are very thankful to Senator Ritchie and her colleagues in the state legislature, including Assemblyman Bill Magee, for the support that allowed this exciting initiative to expand.”
Matt Hayes is managing editor and social media officer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.