September 16, 2021

Main Street Farms celebrates 10th anniversary

Jamie Costa/staff reporter

Main Street Farms is celebrating 10 years of producing organic, diversified vegetables in Cortland County. Robert “Bobcat” Bonagura, co-owner and farm manager, pulls back plastic layers protecting baby kale Monday at one of the company’s nine greenhouses in the Cortland area.

From homemade fertilizer to its own CBD oil line, Main Street Farms is celebrating 10 years of agricultural innovation.

The company was founded in 2011 by Allan Gandelman, a former social studies teacher at an alternative school in Cortland. He noticed a correlation between what his students ate for lunch and their ability to learn when one of his students sat down with a bag of chips and Mountain Dew. This inspired him to start a farm with a vision to bring local produce into lunch rooms from the elementary level to the collegiate level throughout Cortland County.

After he partnered with Robert “Bobcat” Bonagura, his former college roommate at SUNY New Paltz and outdoor environmental education teacher, the company took off.

“We wanted to incorporate education into the farm and we wanted to create jobs within the community,” said Bonagura, co-owner of Main Street Farms. “We started to grow in soil in greenhouses — peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers — and we wanted to grow a lot of food for our community.”

In 10 years, Main Street Farms has grown to six farming properties, nine greenhouses and high tunnels and created a new company, New York Hemp Oil.

Its crops fill cafeterias and produce sections in Cortland, Syracuse, Ithaca and Binghamton, with dreams of one day serving New York City beyond the occasional batch of winter carrots.

“It (Main Street Farms) has been a way to attract young people to stay in the area, or come to the area, by providing jobs and fresh veggies for the community,” said Brett Morris, owner of Shared Roots, another organic vegetable farm in Cortland County. Morris was once the farm manager for Main Street Farms.

“I am passionate about creating sustainable, above-living wage jobs for our community,” Gandelman said. “It is our goal over the next 10 years to revitalize Cortland through agriculture.”

Main Street Farms added hemp to its crops, and created a company in 2019 to process the CBD oil the hemp produces. Hemp sales saw exponential growth between 2015 and 2019, to $600 million nationwide from $500,000 just four years earlier, reports the Hemp Industries Association. However, the price for CBD oil dropped more than 40% between 2018 and 2019, leading some farmers to back away from the crop.

If New York legalizes recreational marijuana, Main Street Farms would be crazy not to jump on that, Bonagura said.

“Growing hemp and growing marijuana wouldn’t be all that different,” he said. “It would be just another crop and another stream of income and we want to keep our food dollars local in this economy and our community.”

More important, Bonagura and Gandelman said, is to build the community, creating jobs, providing vegetables and making sure everybody has access to their crops.