‘Resiliency’ in farming
Stop at Westfield facility spotlights agri-tourism
WESTFIELD — To bring attention to local agricultural business, state Sen. George Borrello visited the Growers Cooperative Grape Juice Co. headquartered in Westfield. Borrello’s goal was to showcase one of Chautauqua County’s biggest draws in its agri-tourism.
“We have this great opportunity to grow our agri-tourism business, which is more than the industrial part of farming,” Borrello said. “It’s more about how we bring people here to understand where their food comes from and enjoy the process and to bring some attention to the Growers Co-op and their relationship with local farmers.”
Borrello and his colleagues were given a tour of the facility by Growers Co-op General Manager Steve Cockram. The Grape Growers Co-op is located in the middle of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, spanning from Harbor Creek, Pa., to Silver Creek, and is the largest and oldest concord grape growing region in the world. The Co-op supplies the region’s grapes to places all over the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The Grape Growers Co-op operates as an outlet for many farmers in the region to be able to sell their product. What started as 11 farmers coming together in 1929 has now evolved into so much more. Additionally, while it is known for their grape products, they have also been able to diversify to handle cherries, blueberries, and other non-citrus fruits.
“So many of these farmers are into other crops other than concord,” Borrello said. “So, to me it’s all about showing how the changes through the market, the Growers Co-op has diversified to strengthen its portfolio, as have all the farmers that make up the Co-op.”
On top of their normal production, the Co-op has also been producing goods for the Nourish New York program that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nourish New York’s purpose is to take surplus product and get it to people in need of it. Cockram said that Westfield’s facility is perfect for helping New York farmers and processors, while also feeding the hungry.
“This is one of the ways this will be able to work,” said Cockram. “And we have all the pieces to make it work at this site.”
In the time since Borrello was a child, he has noticed the growth of this production and appreciates how the farmers have been able to adapt to changing circumstances over time.
“We have more wineries, breweries and distilleries,” Borrello said. “When I was a kid, all we had basically were Concord and Niagara grapes mostly and now we have all these wine grapes that we never had 30 or 40 years ago. It shows the resiliency of our farmers.”
Borrello also knows that the future of Chautauqua County’s economy lies in its agricultural exploits, which the Co-op is a part of. In order to keep the agriculture business strong within the county, Borrello wants to draw attention to places like the Grape Growers Co-op.
“Agriculture is the number one industry in Chautauqua County and throughout New York state in general,” Borrello said. “In this case, keeping our farmers resilient is key to our economy and key to keeping our population here and getting more young people into agriculture.”