by David Haight
January 25, 2011
*Any opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not constitute the opinions of the Food Systems Network NYC.
Think back to the first days of New York’s history. Who were some of the state’s original business people? Farmers. If you think about it, trade in food has historically been the foundation of all economic activity.
Fast forward to 2011. Farms remain critical to New York’s economy. The state’s 30,000 farms sell over $4.5 billion annually — milk, fruits, vegetables, meat, flowers, plants and so much more. And farms buy much of the goods and services they need to survive from other local businesses. There is a network of connections between farms and thousands of New Yorkers employed at hardware stores, banks, farm equipment dealers and other enterprises.
The economic opportunities for growing, processing and marketing food and farm products in New York are vast and diverse. New York is a national leader in the production of more than 20 farm products — recently, we were second in the nation in the production of apples, maple syrup and pumpkins and third in dairy and wine and grape production. This abundance of food production in close proximity to 19 million state residents and millions more in neighboring states makes New York a strategic place to locate food processing businesses.
When you add together the businesses that sell goods and services to farmers, farm jobs and food processing businesses, these enterprises generate a combined $30 billion a year in economic activity in New York. Yet there is still potential for growth. New York City residents alone spend more than $30 billion a year on food.
But, agriculture is often overlooked by mainstream economic development programs, and as a result, we don’t adequately protect farmland or promote our farms. Investing in agriculture supports an extensive network of small businesses connected by farming and food . And, these projects encourage environmentally-sound “smart growth” — focusing development in our cities, villages, town centers, and hamlets.
There are hopeful signs that agriculture and farmland protection will be a much higher priority for New York in the near future. In the last 90 days, three major political leaders in New York have released reports or policy agendas detailing the importance of farms and food to all New Yorkers.