By Guillaume Gentil and Mark Prowse
Rooster calls and bleating sheep fill the air at Ithaca’s ‘AgStravaganza’ Saturday, as dairy farmer Skip Hardie wanders the Commons. He’s got locally produced ice cream nestled in his gloved hands as he meets and greets some festival-goers and milk product consumers.
“The crowd here in Ithaca is very liberal, open-minded, and they want organic foods and sustainable farming,” said Hardie, a long-time farmer and member of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Hardie has been farming for the past 40 years and has seen significant change in the dairy industry.
Many local farmers work in conjunction with local cooperatives such as the CCE to facilitate marketing, distribution and processing of raw product.
According to their website, the CCE is partnered with “…federal, state, and local government […], the national land grant system, and Cornell University…”
This partnership with Cornell’s agricultural education research facilities assists local farmers in overcoming limitations in research and development. The research helps farmers boost their productivity by giving them a better understanding of their crops and helping them adapt to the needs of their consumers
“In the 90’s people starting asking for organic milk. I was very happy to oblige.” However, Hardie has seen larger companies enter the national market and make it difficult for smaller productions to keep up as time has passed.
“Being in the cooperative means I milk my cows and then other members turn it into anything they like from ice-cream to yogurt to plain drinking milk,” he said. “That way everybody wins.”
Distributing on a local scale has made it easier for Hardie and farmers like him to distribute as far as big markets like New York City. Though he does not transport the products themselves, he knows his milk is making it to farmer’s markets within a four–state radius.
Farmers and Families in the Commons
Farmers from across Tompkins County gathered on Saturday at the Ithaca Commons, to share the details of their profession such as knowledge about equipment, produce and livestock, with the consumers of Ithaca.
Two large tractors were brought in to entertain visitors, giving them a chance to be in the driving seat of the powerful machines. Children in the cabins of these tractors quickly found the horn and would blast it to their delight.
Many of the booths were less about selling product and more about educating the consumer. A waste-management and composting booth detailed all the advantages of being more mindful of waste. A little farther down the road was a booth for OmNomOmlettes, a business that focuses on cooking solely with locally produced food-stuffs.
The event was sponsored by the Tompkins County Farm Bureau in cooperation with the CCE. The organizing of the event was assisted by the Tompkins County Dairy Princess Program.
Beyond the Business
However, business is only one side of the agricultural exposition, the other is the connection being made to the community. The advertisements for the expo and activities provided are clearly family oriented. From a little petting zoo to craft stands, children are clearly in focus.
“A significant amount of people here get a weekly or even daily crate of produce from us,” said Lin Davidson, president of the Tompkins Farm Bureau. “That’s what they feed their families with so their kids have a pretty good idea of who’s growing their food.”
Davidson spoke at length about the importance of getting consumers interested in the industry.
“People these days are very disconnected from their food,” he said. “Here [at Agstravaganza] they get a chance to shake our hand and we get to share a little bit about ourselves.”