Contributed by Ashlea Raemer ’18
Madison County is home to one of the strongest agricultural communities in New York with agriculture being the base of the county’s economy. In 2005 this community created the Madison County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan that cited four main goals, one of which was agriculture economic development. This led to the creation of the Agriculture Economic Development (AED) program in 2006 when the county funded the AED specialist position, housed out of Madison County Cornell Cooperative Extension, and created the Agriculture Advisory Committee to serve as directors for the AED program. The AED program focuses on marketing Madison County agriculture, assisting farmers, and attracting new farmers to the area.
AED creates and executes many programs throughout the year, with their signature program being Open Farm Day. Open Farm Day is an annual event in which farms throughout Madison County open their doors to the public for a day of farm tours, animal interaction, local food, and fun for the whole family. This free event allows people to learn about where their food comes from, what farming looks like in Madison County, and how to buy locally produced agricultural products. For the participating farms this event serves as a marketing and revenue generation opportunity, as well as providing them with a platform to educate the public about their operations.
This summer I assisted with the preparations for Open Farm Day and am currently analyzing all the surveys collected from Open Farm Day participants. My main project, however, has been the development of a new agritourism program. This program will serve as a more long-term complement to Open Farm Day and will have more of a focus on purchasing from local agricultural producers. Shifting the focus to purchasing will better encourage people to support local agriculture beyond the span of the program, and will allow farmers who may not want visitors to their farms but sell at local farmers’ markets to be included. In addition to the development of this program, which AED hopes to launch in 2017, I have also been working on the creation of a Madison County Farm Directory. This will be in a digital format that includes an interactive map that consumers can use to find their farmers and filter results based on product availability, location, hours, purchasing options, etc. The long-term agritourism program and the farm directory both aim to promote buying local goods and purchasing directly from producers.
I applied to be a Summer Field School Fellow because of the unique opportunity it provides to spend the summer doing research with a community-based approach that will have a tangible impact. I have always been drawn to community-based work and this experience has allowed me to further explore that interest and has allowed me to develop a stronger connection to the area that I have lived in for the past two years.