The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a NY Rural Roundtable Summit at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. The first of three to be held in Eastern New York, the summit brought together small business owners, farmers, and other community advocates to give participants a chance to learn about government programs and grants, and other opportunities available to help strengthen rural communities.
Lee Telega, NY State Director for USDA, Rural Development, said the roundtables aim to spread information on a variety of programs to those in less accessible areas.
“Urban centers, it’s easy – you have a lot of activity going on,” said Telega. “In your smaller communities you really have to talk about economic development in a whole host of areas.”
The event featured group meetings, with speakers from both state and federal programs. Topics included business programs and available funding, utilities programs and community facilities including broadband, and opportunities in farming and agriculture.
New York Congressmen Bill Owens and Paul Tonko, both Democrats, offered their help.
Owens, who has served on the House Agriculture Committee, talked about some of the newer provisions and opportunities in the recently signed Farm Bill.
“We have some provisions in the Farm Bill that are for new farmers. We have a number of provisions related to small farmers, and we think that’s very important because as you bring back small farmers into communities, obviously that stimulates the economy, but it also offers people the opportunity to eat local,” said Owens.
Owens mentioned the changing economics of agriculture in New York and talked about some programs that are available to bring new life into the farming industry.
“We have a lot of CSA’s up in my area, I think that’s a very good option for people to have,” said Owens. “And we’re providing funding for those kinds of small farmers, we’re providing funding that allows them to bring their products to farmers markets because we’re trying to encourage that kind of activity.”
Tonko, whose district includes a portion of Montgomery county said there’s a need to educate the public on available opportunities. Tonko said the Mohawk Valley has many strengths.
“With location, you have a lot of opportunity with the waterfront communities in Montgomery County, to develop farmers markets to perhaps provide for ag diversification in each of the counties, you’ve got a very strong worth ethic – one that’s been very important to the ag industry – and if you can provide value added measures that allow for added opportunities and product lines, there’s an assistance here that comes with USDA that could perhaps be the financial solution you’re looking for,” said Tonko.
Peter Godarie, an owner of Godarie’s tree farm in Johnstown, said his farm is looking for ways to increase use of solar power. Godarie said that information presented will help his team develop a business plan .
“It’s given everybody some direction to go when they’re looking for funding that’s involved with it,” said Godarie.
Godarie said his farm may also consider adding an extra value-added product.
The USDA’s Rural Roundtable Summits will continue across New York with involved agencies such as the NY Environmental Facilities Corporation, NY Rural Water Association, NYS Broadband, NYS Housing & Community Renewa, and Empire State Development.
Roundtables will be held at Sullivan County Community College in the Catskills on Friday, and at Orange County Community College in the Hudson Valley on Monday.