Daniel Valone suggests a co-op of farmers

My son, Daniel Valone from St. Augustine, Fla., found all this information on the computer. I am putting it in my column just in case someone can use it. Everything starts with an idea! Hope it’s useful.

Dan wrote, “The NYS Beginning Farmers grant program is something new. And as such, it will face some natural resistance, skepticism or a wait-and-see attitude. In these days of financial uncertainty, farmers are not about to rush in. Fifty thousand dollars sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Some farmers might be hesitant to go through the unfamiliar process of applying for a state grant for which they may or may not qualify. But if there were to be a cooperative created of five or more small organic and specialty crop farms, at $50,000 each … then you have some working capital.

I would like to suggest that the local government/agencies work with the state to promote the concept of such a co-op in the Dunkirk/Fredonia area. This co-op could be used as a model, an experiment, to create a template for other areas to duplicate or work from. This local project could be created and monitored for data collection, assessment and evaluation of each aspect to be analyzed for effectiveness, modifications, etc. The data from this co-op could be used by others to reduce the anxieties of working with this new program, give them a feel of what is involved, the level of risk and potential reward from participating in it.”

The co-op could work with schools. SUNY at Fredonia could provide expertise for advertising, marketing, business plan and grant application/development. High schools, BOCES horticulture and agricultural programs and community service projects for students could also be part of the mix. A community garden project could introduce youth to farming and providing locally grown healthful foods to “food deserts”- areas without access to fruits and veggies. Cornell Cooperative Extension service could also serve as a source for information and expertise.

The co-op could investigate possible products and crops, target crops to be considered and products to be created. For example some crops might be speciality wines and brandies (not just grape-based wine/brandy but something like Germany specialty wine “violet wine” and fruit brandies, herbal teas, specialty jams and jellies (e.g. mint, blueberry), balsamic vinegars – herbal infusions in oils, grape seed/skin extracts/oil, soaps and “green” cosmetics, potpourri, scented candles, seeds, bulbs and floral products, window box garden kits, organic fertilizers e.g. packaged composted material, dried/composted manure (zoos sell rhino and elephant droppings! why not processed horse and cow dung?), Christmas tree grinding service to create mulch, grape vine products wreaths, walking canes, mulch grape leaves (canned grape leaves used in Greek food like stuffed grape leaves.)

Possible collective activities include harvesting share farm equipment to reduce expenses; processing distillation, extraction, drying, smoked products; packaging canning, dry packaging; distribution regional delivery (Buffalo area) restaurants, arts & crafts fairs, farmers’ markets, Farm festival and other outlets and promotion create logo and advertising & marketing campaign (“Hail, hail Fredonia” theme? work with Marx Brothers estate/agents. )

Here are some of the sources my son found when looking into options for a co-op.

The Beginning Farmers Fund will provide new farmers with grants of up to $50,000. Organic farmers and those who plan to grow specialty crops will be given priority for the grants.

The initiative is part of the nearly $140 billion state budget signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The spending plan increases funding for agricultural programs by $8 million overall.

Items from the Cornell Website:

NYS Specialty Crops Block Grants Program. Purpose: Increase the competitiveness of specialty crops, encourage efficiency, partnerships, innovation, and new markets. The RFP (request for proposal) includes many areas of focus including: packaging/labeling, environmental quality, distribution, education and outreach, food safety, food security, marketing and promotion, product development, plant health and international trade. 2009 awards were solely focused on plant health. Eligibility: Funding available to non-profits, for profits, individuals, educational institutions, and government; however, individuals and businesses must partner with others. For information, contact Jonathan Thomson@agriculture.ny.gov or Jonathan Thomson at 518-485-8902.

Grow NY Enterprise Program. Purpose: provide grants or loans to finance business expansion related to production, processing or marketing of agricultural products. Eligibility: Municipalities under 50,000 (population) apply on behalf of farm enterprise. Must have other funding in place. Job creation required: 1 job per $7,500 invested. Funding: Minimum of $100,000 up to $750,000 per community. Information: Ag & Markets – 800-554-4501; www.agriculture.ny.gov/GNYRFP.html.


USDA-SARE/Sustainable Agriculture Farmer/ Grower Grant Great source for on farm research projects. Purpose:Support on-farm research demonstrations, marketing innovations, value adding activities and other projects. Funding: capped at $15,000, capital improvements limited to $500 of total project cost, no match required.

Annual deadline in December. Call 802-656-0471 or see website: www.nesare.org or email nesare@uvm.edu.

P.S. We’ve started collecting for the $50,000 we need to be eligible for a grant concerning the Coburn Block. We had a $1,000 pledge! Do the best you can! We’ll do it! If you would like to support the Coburn Block Renovation, you can send a check to the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, 212 Lake Shore Drive, Dunkirk, NY 14048. Make it designated to “Coburn Block Renovation.” Thank you!