IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE to anyone who’s even remotely involved with food that the Hudson Valley is way ahead of the curve as far as awareness, involvement and appreciation of local food go. From The New York Times to National Geographic to Travel and Leisure, the consensus is that the Hudson Valley is hot.
All this attention has attracted money. That is, the food sector—businesses focused on growing, harvesting, marketing, distributing, preparing and eating—are suddenly significant enough to appear on the economic radar screen. The New World Foundation and investors like Hudson River Ventures have taken a special interest in this economic sector of the region—an affirmation that they believe the local farming and food economies can be revived and (ideally) form the basis of a stable and prosperous system.
Valley Table Publisher Janet Crawshaw addressed just this point at an agricultural economics workshop sponsored by New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney in July. She related the economic and social changes we’ve marked since the magazine was launched:
Fifteen years ago, when my husband and I started The Valley Table, the climate of the Hudson Valley was very different—both economic and meteorological—from what it is today. We’ll leave climate change to the scientists, but let’s look at the Hudson Valley’s food and agricultural economy as it was 15 years ago:
- —There were a few chefs or restaurants prominently featuring local farms on their menus, and no locally based distribution companies for local products.
- —Only a handful of farmers’ markets dotted the region. (Believe it or not, some municipalities and businesses actively opposed farmers’ markets.
- —Words rarely uttered in the same sentence were agriculture and economic development. Agriculture-related financing was difficult, if not impossible, to get. (One story related to me by a farmer was of a conversation he had with a banker: “What about financing or support for agriculture?” he asked. The banker replied, “Agriculture is dead.”)
In the 15 years that we’ve been covering the food and farm scene, I’m happy to say a lot has changed—maybe not enough, but a lot:
- —There are now 75 farmers’ markets and 35 Community Supported Agriculture projects in the seven counties we cover.
- —Farm-to-table has become a way of life—many restaurants now feature local products and local farms on their menu, and even in their advertising.
- —The Valley Table launched Hudson Valley Restaurant Week seven years ago with 72 restaurants participating. We now have nearly 200 restaurants participating. Currently, about 80 percent feature local products on their menus during Restaurant Week.
- —Schools and hospitals are prioritizing “local” and “sustainable” ingredients in their food programs.
- —There are now distributors, like Red Barn, specializing in distributing “local” products, and the big distributors (Baldor, Dairyland, Ginsberg’s) are now openly seeking local products.
- —New capital resources are making investments in Hudson Valley agriculture and ag-related enterprises. A new agency, the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation, is dedicated to helping companies start up and scale up to meet the growing demand for local food. To conclude, it doesn’t get any better than this:
The Hudson Valley truly is emerging as a food capital, and the sheer number of organizations dedicated to food and agriculture is an indicator of how it has grown. At The Valley Table, we’ve had the tremendous pleasure of bringing the stories of our farms and purveyors to the public. The bottom line is it’s a great time to be in the Hudson Valley.