Sustainable Farming in Upstate New York

Articles | July 28, 2023

By Peter Aronson

If you are sitting behind a desk, typing on a computer (like I am), then Tianna Kennedy may make you jealous. 

An NYU grad, Kennedy is among a small but growing group of individuals who are forgoing more traditional work (and in some cases giving up big city life), to enter the growing field of sustainable agriculture.

She is a co-founder of the Catskills Agrarian Alliance based in Hamden, NY.

As reported in an article by Maria M. Silva in the Times Union in Albany, Kennedy and a partner founded the Alliance as a “food sovereignty project that aims to create a regional food system founded on more equitable and sustainable food practices.”

This is a growing trend and New York State and Upstate New York seem to be among the leaders. In 2021, New York was the 27th ranked state in the country for total farm receipts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDOA), yet the state is a leader in organic farming.

New York state, with 1,407 certified organic farms, is one of only three states in the country with more than 1,000 organic farms, trailing only agriculture behemoth California’s 3,061 and Wisconsin’s 1,455, according to a USDOA report for 2021. And New York had the second most acres certified as organic, with 331,000, a distant second to California’s 814,000, but significantly ahead of the other top-five ag states Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Minnesota.

In total, organic farming in New York State is growing twice as fast as the national average and accounts for four percent of the state’s farm land, compared with 0.6 percent nationally, Reuters reported.

The Hudson Valley going north to Albany, particularly along the Interstate-87 corridor, has a significant presence in the market, in part because of farmers markets in nearby cities (for example Troy, Newburgh and Saratoga Springs), as well as the extensive greenmarket network in New York City with more than 50, according to Lancaster Farming.

The trend is only growing. If you are interested in learning more about organic farming in upstate New York, there are a plethora of organizations to turn to for education and even work.

In Hurley, NY, there’s the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, a non-profit agricultural center “dedicated to resiliency in the regional food system.” The Hub, with 55 full-time employees, operates a 1,600-acre, year-round organic farm. But it is much more than just a farm, offering agriculture education and training; agronomic research; applied farmscape ecology; support for increased food access through a Hudson Valley distribution network; and language justice.

Another non-profit, founded in 2019, is the Hudson Valley Food System Coalition, with a stated mission “to realize a more equitable and regenerative Hudson Valley food system by connecting food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management practices while encouraging the use of our region’s food resources to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our community.” 

The organization has established working groups with farmers and others in the food industry to focus on such initiatives as food distribution, food security and resource and waste recovery.

The Northeast Farming Association of New York has been around since the 1980s, but its sister organization, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA), with its office in Binghamton, is a more recent offshoot. It offers programs and services that promote sustainable, local, organic food and farming, including the Transition to Organic Partnership Program, which assists transitioning farmers through mentorships and technical training and resources. 

Meanwhile, the Catskills Agrarian Alliance is in the thick of the current progressive labor and social movement, looking to uplift marginalized communities in the farming community, such as Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous and all communities of color.

The organization is striving to promote a fair and living farm wage; holistic farm management practices; a resilient supply chain for small farms and “adaptive solutions” to farming through climate change. 

“New York is well positioned to be a leader in agricultural food production in a nation adapting to these climate and political uncertainties …” the CAA states on its website. “A self-reliant New York is a more resilient New York.”

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