May 22, 2019

Federal grant seeds indoor farmers market

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Susan Ortiz, left, and Cassandra Coombs make pumpkin pies at Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill in Virgil on Friday. Hollenbeck’s is one of many local businesses that draws visitors from out of the area and state.

Workers at Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill gushed Friday about a year-round farmers market in Broome County — the kind of facility a federal grant could help establish in Cortland.

“That’s a beautiful facility,” said Matt Hollenbeck, cousin of owner Bruce Hollenbeck, in between pulling pies from the oven. “It’s better than Ithaca. They should take a good look at Broome County.”

Seven Valleys Health Coalition has received a three-year $108,500 grant from the federal Department of Agriculture to create a food trail map for Cortland County and begin planning for a year-round farmers market and commercial kitchen.

The grant extends the work of a state Health Department grant to increase health education about nutrition and food security.

The $1.2 million Broome market opened in June in 6,700 square feet on Upper Front Street in the town of Dickinson, just off Interstate 81.

The red barn-like structure has room for 36 vendors, a commercial kitchen and was funded in large part through a state grant.

“This has been bantered around for a couple of years,” said Susan Williams of Seven Valleys. but nobody is quite sure if a community the size of Cortland can support a year-round market of the type seen in Broome, or in Syracuse. “We’re going to need to create a data-gathering tool.”

Seven Valleys will worth with CAPCO, SUNY Cortland, Main Street Farms, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sustainable Cortland, NY FarmNet, Food and Health Network of South Central New York, Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Virgil Farmers’ Market, Food Bank of Central New York and the Cortland Hunger Coalition.

Alan Gandelman, principal of Main Street Farms and a partner in the grant application, wants to match what Broome did, or even do better.

Maybe 7,000 square feet, even 10,000. “Maybe we need only 3,000, but I dream big,” he said. What he and Williams want is a food hub.

Ideally, the facility would be close to downtown Cortland, so people with limited transportation could get to it.

“It connects some of the smaller local farms with consumers,” Gandelman said, and beyond the economic benefit, there’s a health benefit. Even a social benefit, if entertainment can be provided.

“The main barrier to accessing healthy food is cooking,” Gandelman said, and the kitchen to be the center of cooking classes to improve nutrition. “Cooking is a lot of skill, particularly fresh foods. Here, you could buy the local kale and find out what to do with it.”

An indoor farmers market would be a destination unto itself, much like the Ithaca farmers market, but for other food businesses, the grant would fund marketing, including a food trail, a guide to local food destinations.

“We’re looking to support the producers,” Williams said. Producers like Reakes Country Goods in Truxton, Solon Gardens in Solon and Hollenbeck’s in Virgil. “How do we support the farmers? And who’s doing it that we don’t know about yet?”

There’s potential in agri-tourism, Hollenbeck said. He keeps an eye out for strange ZIP codes when he processes credit cards.

“Consistently, I see them from downstate, Long Island, the New York City area,” he said. New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. “You get people who grew up in the area and they ask mom and dad to ship them a pie.”

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