By Thea Hassan:
Erie County is updating its farmland protection plan, and they are seeking your input. The first public forum discussion was held Monday night in the Lafayette Presbyterian Church on Elmwood Avenue.
Erie County received a state grant to update the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan. The last plan was developed in 1996. The Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board, the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning and American Farmland Trust are leading the efforts.
The protection plan essentially provides an action plan for the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board to protect farmland within the county. Twenty-two percent of the land in Erie County is in active agricultural production, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, which amounts to about 1200 farms. The value of these farms in 2007 was $117 million.
Farmers and their land face a myriad obstacles in growing and distributing their product in Erie County, which is what the plan and public forums are going to address. One threat is urban sprawl and development, which has resulted in fragmentation of potential farmland.
“We all pay the price for that kind of poor planning,” said Dianne Held, consultant for the American Farmland Trust.
From 2002 to 2007, Erie County lost eight percent of its agricultural development to non-farm development. Furthermore, only a small portion of farmland, 2,000 acres of the County’s 149,000 are permanently protected. There is also a considerable amount of land within the county’s borders that could be farmed, but is not. Considering New York state has some of the best soils in the world, (yes, the world), it seems like a waste to some to not realize their potential.
“We need to think about our responsibility as a player in the world,” said Held. “It’s not a joke that we got called the bread basket.”
This is the first time the city of Buffalo will be incorporated into the farmland protection plan. Much of the discussion in the forum centered around the potential of urban farming.
“Please don’t forget about the city,” asked Susannah Barton, executive director of Grassroots Gardens. “When we look at these maps, we might as well be part of the water.”
Barton was referring to maps of potential and actual farmland within Erie County. According to the map, compiled from USDA soil classifications, the city of Buffalo is barren.
Attendees offered input on where there are opportunities for new farms in Erie County and new markets where the locally grown food could be sold.They also discussed potential barriers that have prevented farming and growing food, and then marketing this food.
Proposals for the greatest opportunities in Erie County for farming and growing food included:
• Urban land
• Urban rooftops
• Vacant factories and buildings
• Vacant or abandoned farmland
• college or school campuses
Ideas for potential new markets for locally grown food included:
• Festivals, such as the Taste of Buffalo, or the Allentown Art Festival
• EBT support
• Year round farmers market
• Increase number of farmers markets
• Public markets, such as the Broadway Market
• The prioritization of supporting local
• Schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, prisons
• Create a food hub
• Diversify locally grown crops
• Value-added product
Potential barriers discussed included:
• Social stigma of local production
• Lack of education on importance of locally grown product
• Lack of subsidies for small farms
• Distribution barriers
• Cost of doing business in NY State
• Local laws and policies
• Myth of urban soils being toxic, cost of soil testing
• Lack of education for policy makers
• Lack of resources for urban farmers
Think you can do better? Want to get your input heard? Two additional forums are planned for this summer:
Thursday, July 28 at 7:30 pm at Eden Town Hall, 2795 Eden Hall, Eden
Tuesday, Aug.16 at 7:30 pm at Alden Town Hall, 3311 Wende Rd., Alden
Additional public forums are also planned for the late fall.
Lead image: Diane Held discusses farmland protection plan with attendees of the forum.
Below: The map on the left shows potential farmland in Erie County. This map shows actual farms in Erie County.