Opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Community 2000, the Villages of Florida, Warwick, Greenwood Lake, or the Town of Warwick.
Black Dirt Opinion
By Chris Pawelski - 4th generation farmer, Pine Island. Read Chris's bio.
Issue #1: Wallkill River & its tributaries
The biggest issue and continued threat facing farmers in the black dirt (and others as well) is the lack of proper maintenance of the Wallkill River & its tributaries. It has been decades since the Wallkill has been even remotely cared for. Since 2005 the region has been hit by 7 "50-year floods.” Crop losses alone in Orange & Ulster County from those floods have been estimated to be in the range of $120 million dollars.
Issue #2: Labor
Farmers in the black dirt and across the country continue to face an acute labor shortage. What the County can do is provide and adequately fund various programs and services that assist and benefit the migrant farmworker community, thereby making Orange County an attractive place to live and work.
Related - There have been a few local meetings with religious organizations who are working on bringing in and relocating refugees to our county and region. This is appealing because many of these refugees have farming or farm work experience and would be a potential source of workers for the farming community. Encouraging the relocation of refugees would be an interesting initiative.
Related - There are a number of farmers who over the past few years, due to weather and other disasters, have had terrible years and whose income would be at or below the federal poverty level. I know there are various programs available on the county level, including home heating assistance, healthcare, etc …, that are available but for the most part the County has done little to nothing to market or provide outreach to farmers and to get them this assistance. The only exception I am aware of over the years is Rich Mayfield.
Issue #3: Cornell Cooperative Extension
The County is a primary funder of CCE and continued funding and support for CCE is vital, especially the programs targeting production agriculture.
Issue #4: Economic Development Projects
There is virtually no current support for any sort of economic development projects that would use and benefit the conventionally grown produce found in the black dirt.
Issue #5: Taxes
For upland farmers there exists the PDR (purchase of development rights) program which provides a great deal of capital assistance to farms that qualify and get funded. Since black dirt is designated as wetlands which cannot be developed it cannot qualify for this program. How about the creation of a similar program for black dirt farmers, but instead of purchasing developing rights instead purchasing fracking rights?
Issue #6: Potential detention of undocumented persons
One other issue of major concern, the rounding up of undocumented persons and putting them in the Orange County Jail. This is a huge issue in western NY where ICE has beds to fill in the Batavia Detention Center and has been rounding up numerous persons over the years and filling those beds.
More on Issue #1
The current project being initiated by the OC Soil & Water District is an absurdity that will do nothing to address or mitigate the situation. The Wallkill River along with its primary tributaries needs to be cleaned/deepened/widened so it can handle more water and move more water efficiently to its outlet, the Hudson River.
More on Issue #2
There used to be a County employee in the County Health Department who had a part time designation to service the farmworker community. I believe that position has been cut. It needs to be returned. The farmworker housing improvement under Rich Mayfield continues to be funded and supported and he does an excellent job. That program needs to be maintained. Continued support should be provided to the various healthcare clinics and daycare centers in the county as well as the Farmworker Community Center (known as the Alamo) which provides a number of valuable programs and services). The County can’t implement federal immigration law but it can more aggressively support programs to service the farmworker community.
More on Issue #4
Amy’s Kitchen for the most part will not use local produce. mass conversion to organic production is not technically feasible and will not happen in the black dirt. We need projects that will use and market our products, whether they be packaging operations, wholesale and/or retail hubs, or some sort of high end processing operations. One potential project that comes to mind would be some sort of energy producing bio-digester that would turn agricultural culls or waste products into energy.
More on Issue #6
If ICE starts doing sweeps like are being done in Western NY to detain persons and fill beds at the jail you could potentially SHUT DOWN the local ag industry.
Agriculture in Orange County
By Michael Sussman - Harvard Law, practices in Goshen, NY and is an advocate of environmental justice.
Agriculture is a bedrock industry throughout many areas of our county; the diversity of agriculture should be maintained and encouraged. Currently, the county has no Commissioner of agriculture and no centralized means of supporting our farmers. This should change.
We support the creation of an executive level office to encourage and support farming. The urgency of this effort must match the public demand for produce grown locally and public enthusiasm for our farm markets. Hydroponic farming also provides a means to help urban communities develop viable micro-industries and employment opportunities.
The Wallkill River
Any renewed focus on agriculture must be multi-faceted and involve serious address to flooding conditions which have imperiled farm families along the Wallkill River. The Wallkill needs to be cleared of silt depositions which limit river flow capacity. Snags created by congestion occasioned by seepage from the landfill must be rectified and the river's capacity to absorb large scale weather events must be made more uniform. Cooperation with neighboring counties, the state and federal governments is critical to gaining the resources needed to reclaim the Wallkill River. Moreover, the decades-old agreement between the county and four of our towns is obsolete and needs to be redone with the goal of markedly decreasing flooding events which have cost our farmers hundreds of millions of dollars and made less viable their way of life.