Regulations and dwindling involvement from younger generations are posing challenges to New York state’s agricultural industry, a local panel of experts have said.
The Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel of agriculture and local market experts on the current state of the industry in the county in an event titled “Eggs and Issues,” held at the Broome County Regional Farmers Market on Friday morning.
The agricultural and horticultural industries are responsible for more than a third of Broome County’s land mass and generates over $30 million in sales annually within the county, according to New York state’s 2012 Census of Agriculture.
The agricultural industry in New York alone produced more than $5.4 billion in sales in 2012, according to a report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office. The industry is one of the largest economic sectors in the state and plays a considerable role in the Broome County economy.
To get the next generation interested and active, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County is working to educate young students. In January 2017, the pilot program “Agriculture in the Classroom” brought interactive activities to five elementary schools. There, educators from the organization visited classrooms to connect students to the world of agriculture through hands-on workshops.
According to Brian Aukema, the agriculture team lead at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County, the program can educate kids on subjects like respiration and veterinary science by utilizing resources teachers often lack.
“At [Chenango Bridge Elementary School in] Chenango Valley, we brought in a live goat,” Aukema said. “Some of these kids have never even seen a goat before.”
Five more elementary schools were added to the roster last August because of high demand for programming.
According to Antonia Nevias-Ida, a junior majoring in human development and a member of the E-Board for Feeding a Hungry World, a club that packages leftover dining hall food and donates it to those in need, younger kids are not the only ones who need further education on local agriculture.
“As a student that is heavily involved with food insecurity and having even studied food systems, I really don’t know much about where food on campus comes from,” Nevias-Ida said.
Posters in the College-In-the-Woods Dining Hall indicate that Binghamton University gets some of its produce from BU Acres, a two-acre farm located just off campus.
The panel members also spoke about the greater Binghamton community and its role in the industry. The farmers market hosts more than 20 local vendors year-round so community members can not only buy local food, but also meet the people making it. Karen Allen, a panel member and co-owner of local small business Old Barn Hollow, emphasized the connection between producer and consumer.
“It’s not only about selling product,” Allen said. “It’s interacting with the community.”
Carol Schneider, a certified medical massage practitioner and small-business owner of HeartGlow Integrated Massage in Broome County, said buying locally can also increase consumer trust. While she said it is difficult to find local hemp oil to use in massages, it is worth staying local.
“If you can talk directly to the supplier, and see the conditions [the plant] is growing in, it increases your trust in what you can provide to your own customers,” Schneider said.
While BU does not offer agriculture as a major, Aukema said last year in the United States there were over 65,000 new jobs with only 35,000 college graduates in the field.