Young still boosting county in Cornell role

Publisher’s notebook

OBSERVER Photo Catharine Young, executive director of the state Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell Agritech, speaks with an attendee of Wednesday’s gathering.

Hardly no one saw it coming one year ago. Then state Sen. Catharine Young stunned her constituents and this region with the announcement that she was stepping down from the post she had held for about 14 years.

Almost everyone here and throughout District 57 never questioned how good we had it during her leadership tenure. A champion for Western New York and rural upstate, Young never let us down. Even when fighting some of the toughest battles in Albany — for rural health care and a repowering of NRG — we knew she always gave it her all.

So as she returned to Dunkirk on Wednesday to speak at the Fredonia Technology Incubator, there was an obvious realization. Young is still strongly representing us — and is doing it in a position that could change how we view agriculture and this area in years to come.

“I think it’s phenomenal that you’re focused on food, beverage and agriculture and the impact that it has on people’s lives, but also on economic growth and prosperity,” Young said in her opening remarks to some 55 people in attendance for the event. In her current role as executive director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell Agritech in Geneva, she still holds plenty of clout and expertise.

With a background in farming, Young has a commanding presence when discussing what the state has to offer. Home to more than 35,000 farms, New York is a national leader in the production of dairy, maple, yogurt, fruits and vegetables that contribute $13.8 billion in gross domestic product to the overall economy.

“We’ve got it all,” she said. “I used to say when I was in the Senate that we should market ourselves as the food state because we do have a heavy agriculture economy and we do produce all kinds of different foods.”

In Chautauqua County alone, there are 1,515 farms with 159 being dairy farms. This county also boasts being the largest Concord grape growing region in the world.

But farming, like every other industry and business, is evolving. Sometimes, those changes can create hardships.

Dairy farms are dwindling in numbers due to low milk prices. Even our treasured grape industry is having its share of ups and downs due to some growers reporting a decrease in demand.

Locally, however, there is a continued hope for a synergy with agriculture and industry. In December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Empire State Brands would receive $2.9 million from Empire State Development to renovate the vacant food processing facility that formerly housed Carriage House in Dunkirk. The project will include the development of a vertically integrated growing, processing and packaging operation for the production of quality hops, malted barley, wheat, rye and other grain products. The facility, according to the announcement, would enable further agricultural growth and create jobs in the region.

That is exactly where Young and Cornell Agritech enter the picture. One of the center’s goals is to provide leadership to advance these types of projects with businesses and entrepreneurs with services to be successful.

Throughout the one-hour presentation, there was a focus on a number of successes and new innovations that could help drive rural communities. Some of those initiatives included individuals who were working with honeybees, which have been devastated by varroa destructor mites, as well as how the growing of hops could be beneficial in parts of this county and throughout the Southern Tier.

All the ideas involve a risk, but could bring a reward — for both the local economy and environment.

Some of those individuals already making things happen were in attendance, including a pair of representatives from the Crunch Roll Factory in Westfield. While they are growing their business and distribution, they were attending to hear about other opportunities the Cornell center may offer to them.

“I’m still a resource for people. … I want to be able to help,” Young said. “I think by connecting some of the entrepreneurs in the room with the Center of Excellence or Cornell services, it’s a way we can grow the food and beverage industry in Chautauqua County.”

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)