November 30, 2021

Seven Valleys planting a seed in city

Year-round farmers' market planned

Joe MecIntyre/staff photographer

Seven Valleys Health Coalition project manager Susan Williams, chairwoman of the steering committee for a planned indoor farmers’ market, stands Tuesday in front of the site in a mostly vacant shopping center on Homer Avenue in Cortland.

Seven Valleys Health Coalition shared its plans Tuesday to turn part of an empty plaza on Homer Avenue in Cortland into a year-round indoor farmers’ market, commercial kitchen and education space.

Susan Williams, project manager for Seven Valleys, explained the process to about 90 residents at Smith Elementary School.

Some of the questions the audience had for Williams and other speakers included:

• What would happen to the current farmers markets? Williams said the facility would increase the farmers’ market business.

• Would it have craft shows and grab-and-go food? The space could have craft vendors, but would focus on food, not crafts.

• A grocery at the site? Seven Valleys has no intention of operating one, Williams said.

• How many buyers would use the market in the winter? Gabrielle Didomenico, who is conducting market analysis, said the consensus was that people would absolutely use it. Seven Valleys had already done surveys and focus groups to gauge interest.

• Whether it will be connected by mass transit? The site is on the Cortland Transit route. Williams said they had also contacted SUNY Cortland about bringing students to the site through campus buses.

Two large boards greeted guests showing a map of the site and results of surveys Seven Valleys sent out to Cortland residents from fall 2016 to spring 2017. Of the 625 responses, 72.5 percent said a year-round farmer’s market help them buy more local foods, 77.5 percent said they would like to buy more local foods than they now do and 51.5 percent said the biggest barrier to buying locally produced food is finding it.

The proposed location, 172-174 Homer Ave., would share space with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, the Cortland County Historical Society and the YWCA’s day-care programs and homeless shelter. Developer David Yaman would buy the space from the Cortland YMCA and renovations could begin by spring.

The commercial kitchen would be shared with Cornell Cooperative Extension, which would also be used for teaching.

It’s a dream location, Williams said: near an Interstate 81 exit, the county fairgrounds and the Central New York Living History Museum.

Besides offering a place to sell, the market would help build community, a place where shoppers can get to know the farmers, said Stephanie Roberts of Solon, who runs Shared Roots farm with her husband. They sell about 80 percent of their produce at a farmers’ market near Binghamton.

“It’s nice that people come to check in regularly (with the farmers),” Roberts said.

Cortland residents Ann Cirrcio, Jeff Dovi and Sue Dovi all liked the idea.

“The most important thing to take is that they’re taking an empty building and putting something in it,” Jeff Dovi said.

“I think it’s good for this end of town,” Cirrcio said. “Fill that empty building, make use of that space.”

Williams had said the market is likely a few years away from being complete, as it will be done in phases depending on grants. Seven Valleys plans to apply for a National Institute Food and Agriculture Communities in Need grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The market’s partners met last week with architects.

Other partners in developing the market include Cortland County Community Action Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension, SUNY Cortland, the Cortland, Virgil and Homer farmers’ markets, United Way for Cortland County, Sustainable Cortland and Cortland County Food Pantries.