RANDALL – In past decades, during the growth of the supermarket model of food distribution, a gap between agricultural producers and consumers slowly widened.
Richard Ball, New York state’s Agriculture Commissioner, and a farmer himself in the Scoharie Valley, said he was long frustrated with disconnect between producers and consumers.
“Years ago all of the product went to the local market terminal system and grocery stores bought there and you saw the buyers and then suddenly they were buying direct [from producers in other parts of the country and the question became] why are we bringing in product from the Southwest and the Northwest when there are very good products like that right here,” Ball said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Taste NY initiative is an attempt to reconnect consumers with New York state agricultural products, which collectively account for $5 billion in sales annually, by creating markets where products grown or created in New York can be sold. So far the program has set up Taste NY venues at more than 40 bars, restaurants and cafes, and built five stand-alone Taste NY stores, including the new location at the Lock E-13 Living History Rest Area located on the New York state Thruway of the westbound lane at milepost 187 between exit 28, Fultonville, and exit 29, Canajoharie.
“This is the biggest Taste NY store upstate at this point,” Ball said. “This is the opportunity to connect the dots between our consumers and the agriculture community and give people an opportunity to sample a product, a value added product and eat some Taste NY food and then seek out the grower or the farmer and grow the economy.”
In 2015 Taste NY stores sold $4.5 million worth of products, approximately triple the amount from 2014, according to the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Ball said the Taste NY program still has $1.1 million in state funding left to create more stores, which his department is planning to do. He credited Cuomo’s vision for creating the program.
“We have some of the best agricultural producers in the country upstate and we also have the greatest market place in the country right here,” he said.
In a news release about the opening of the store, Cuomo highlighted the connection of the store to the Lock E-13 Living History Rest Area.
“Apart from its unparalleled natural beauty, the Erie Canal corridor is a vital part of New York’s history and remains a driver in our current economy,” Cuomo stated. “The Lock E-13 rest area is a shining example of the collaboration we have fostered between the Thruway Authority and Canal Corp., and with a new Taste NY store, will share the region’s rich history with the millions of tourists who visit upstate New York each year.”
Inside the store, consumers can purchase assorted teas, yogurt, cheese, peanut butter and jams, as well as home and personal care items such as hand and face creams, soaps and candles, all made in New York state.
Some of the local vendors at the store include maple syrups from Mud Road Sugar House in Ephratah and Fraiser’s Sugar Shack in St. Johnsville, as well as Dennies Dog Treats of Fonda. Books from local authors are also available.
The staff at Taste NY are provided by Liberty ARC, of Amsterdam, the Montgomery County chapter of NYSARC.
Sharon Holbrook-Ryan, public relations marketing coordinator for Liberty ARC, said her organization has been operating a store called Liberty Fresh Market, located on Route 30 in Amsterdam, for about two years. Liberty Fresh Market is a training program for the individuals Liberty ARC provides services for.
“[The New York State Department of] Agriculture and Markets had approached Liberty Fresh Market as potentially being the operators for this Taste NY store because, not only are we a market with a mission to train our individuals for employment, but also we’re very big on offering local vendors, farmers and products at our store,” she said. “We have well over 50 local vendors at Liberty Fresh Market. We were able to combine the vendors we had with the vendors at other Taste NY stores and we were able to really complement the governor’s vision. A lot of the local venders are from Fulton and Montgomery counties, so when we say local, there are a lot of local folks contributing to this.”
Holbrook-Ryan said Liberty has provided nine part-time staff for the Lock E-13 Living History Rest Area in a variety of positions, including clerks, people stocking shelves, people operating checkout and facility maintenance.