November 30, 2021

Getting an up-close look at ag

Cortland County legislators set to tour area farms in September

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

John and Tobi Sosa of Cortland pick up chickens Friday at Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble. The farm is one stop on a tour of farms Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District plan for county and state officials next month.

The legislators will watch the chickens made ready for sale; they’ll see cows and flowers and all the ways agriculture works in Cortland County.

And when they’re done, organizers of a farm tour Sept. 25 across Cortland County hope the state and county lawmakers will have a better understanding of what farming means to their constituents.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County and the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District are organizing the tour through four farms in Homer and Preble.

“The overall goal is to educate and inform our policymakers at the state, county and local levels, so their actions and decisions will reflect an understanding of the role and influence agriculture has in our community,” said Amanda Barber, manager of the conservation district.

State Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-Schenevus), and Assembly members John Lemondes (R-Lafayette) and Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) have RSVP’d for the farm tour. They’ll start at New Hope Dairy in Homer and make their way to Catalpa Flower Farm, the Villname Family Farm in Little York and Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble.

Dana Havas, agricultural team leader for the cooperative extension, said she and Barber hope to build a greater appreciation for farmers and everything agriculture provides to the community.

The county’s 536 farms generate $69.5 million a year in sales, shows the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 agriculture census.

Maureen Knapp, an owner of Cobblestone Valley Farm, said she will be processing her pasture-raised chickens on the day the legislators stop by.

“Serendipitously, we will be doing chickens that day,” Knapp said. “Every four weeks during the summer, we process the chickens we’ve raised — bring them up to the farm and process them — and I think it would be kind of an eye-opener for the legislators.”

Kelles grew up near a farm in Tompkins County, later pursuing degrees in biology, environmental studies and nutritional epidemiology. She now chairs the Assembly subcommittee on agricultural production and technology. Lemondes and his family began operating a farm in LaFayette in 2014.

Although they may not be strangers to agriculture, they could learn something from their tour through Cortland County, Barber said.

“Agriculture is a complex and diverse industry in terms of size, ownership, product, et cetera,” Barber said. “The skills it takes to be successful are as diverse as the types of operations. To understand agriculture, one needs to experience it.”

Knapp said she hopes the legislators end their tour with a new understanding of how important small farms are for the region.

“It all comes down to helping them realize just what kind of an impact that farms have on the county,” Knapp said.

“We are a large part of the economic driver.”

Because many farms focus on commercial products, the farmers’ work is not always seen, she said.

“Some it’s not always visible, so what we’re looking to do is just educate legislators about what buying local can do for the community,” Knapp said. “It’s important to keep the money in the community, because local farms spend most of their money locally, and it would be good if people could support the local farm and spend their money here rather than out of the county.”

One of the challenges for farmers and agricultural businesses is that state legislators are elected every two years, Knapp said.

“The terms are shorter, but the turnover is larger, so with this tour, it’s a great thing for the legislators that are currently in office, but we would want to do something a little bit more often to keep up with that turnover,” Knapp said.

Barber said she hopes legislators leave Cortland County with a new appreciation for farmers, and reflect that in their policy discussions.

“We hope this tour gives the participants a chance to see, touch, taste, smell and hear agriculture, and talk first-hand with the people that live it every day,” Barber said. “Agriculture is the backbone of our local economy — it’s part of our culture and history.”