In this edition of our Community Climate Champions series highlighting individuals and organizations building a better future for their communities, we focus on the Glynwood Center for Regional Food & Farming, a team working to fortify the future of farming in the Hudson Valley region.
New Yorkers, when you think of the Hudson Valley, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the Hudson River? The magnificent landscape that has inspired the likes of Thomas Cole, Frederick Edwin Church, Edward Moran, and so many other artists?
Or perhaps you think of one more defining factor: top-notch farming. The Hudson Valley is home to a vibrant agricultural community, locally-grown fresh food, and farm stands everywhere you turn. Henry Hudson himself called it “the finest land for cultivation I have ever set foot on.”
Long before Hudson arrived in 1609, the Munsee, Mohicans, Algonquin, and Lenape people cultivated the land’s fertile soil. In addition to hunting, fishing, and oyster farming, these First Nations people upheld a diverse diet of corn, beans, different species of squash, nuts, hickory, and various berries.
Recognizing the Hudson Valley’s rich history of farming — and the region’s potential to be an agricultural hub — the Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming in Cold Spring, New York aims to foster the region’s health and economic prosperity through farming. The Glynwood team approaches this huge undertaking from a few different angles: education, coalition-building, and adaptation.
We got the chance to talk to Liz Corio, Glynwood’s VP of Development and Outreach, who traded in the urban life in NYC for a career dedicated to farming in the Hudson Valley.
Introducing Students to the Power of Food with City Growers
Cultivating Strong Roots Through Education
Farmers who are just starting out don’t have it easy. In fact, even farmers with a few years of experience under their belts may face a good deal of volatility. “It can take about 10 years before a farm starts to feel really sustainable,” Liz told us. To help ensure the Hudson Valley has a robust future of farming, the Glynwood team educates farmers on resilient farming practices.
The dividends that come from building soil health and environmental health have a pretty slow return. The reason? Building healthy soil takes years. Seasonal farming is also largely a trial-and-error process that takes time to master. Glynwood is there to set farmers up for success and keep them from getting discouraged.
“Our programs are designed to kind of be the lifejacket around them while they’re treading that 10-year water,” Liz said. “We can’t make the ocean go calm for them, but we can buoy them a bit so that they’re not as exhausted as they would be on their own.”
Indeed, Glynwood is the breeding ground of successful farmers in the Hudson Valley. Its Farm Business Incubator program is one of the ways Glynwood keeps farmers “buoyed” in the ocean that is the modern-day farming industry. The program, which is available to new and experienced farmers, teaches them how to launch or improve their business. This includes everything from direct mail marketing to social media marketing, to managing their business’s finances with Quickbooks.
For newer farmers, the two-year Apprentice Program teaches foundational farming skills such as cultivating healthy soil, raising livestock, and regenerative farming.
Glynwood also offers general Farmer Training Workshops. “Whether they’re learning farm business planning or marketing wholesale products, farmers can come to Glynwood, spend a day, half a day, or even multiple days doing these workshops,” Liz said.
Although most courses could not take place in-person this spring due to COVID-19, farmers were able to learn from an online format. Workshop topics include Pasture and Soil Health, Business Planning and Financing, Uprooting Racism in the Food System, Irrigation, and more.
Creating Farming Coalitions
The Farm-Business Incubator program, Apprenticeship program, and General Farming Workshops allow farmers to meet other farmers with similar values — which brings us to another strategy Glynwood uses to fortify the food system in the Hudson Valley: coalition creation.
“These educational programs serve as a springboard for us to begin to do organizing and coalition-building work, which is a much longer but much better way to be able to transform our regional food system,” Liz told us. “We identify the shared challenges and the terms for mutual benefit, and begin to create a roadmap for how that sector can really thrive in the regional food economy moving forward,” she added.
Glynwood facilitated the Hudson Valley CSA Coalition, a network of over 100 Community Supported Agriculture farmers. CSA farmers use this coalition as a place to bounce around ideas, share what works and what doesn’t work for them when recruiting more people to sign up for a share in their gardens and diversifying their member bases.
The Cider Project is another coalition that started with the intention of broadening opportunities for apple growers, giving them more opportunities to make use of excess crops. It was founded on the belief that the Hudson Valley could be a “leading hard cider region” and strives to make cider part of the region’s identity.
Yet another coalition — known as Kitchen Cultivars — is a group that focuses on seeds and growing herbs, spices, and gourmet vegetables. Glynwood serves as a place for the coalition to host “taste experiences for the public.”
Each of these groups is an opportunity to network and grow together, bringing up the entire local industry and working toward the Hudson Valley’s sustainable future of farming.
Resilient Roots = Resilient Future of Farming
Glynwood is committed to the continued success of the farming and food industry in the Hudson Valley region; however, the farming industry must prepare to face unpredictable and unprecedented challenges in the future.
The biggest challenge, climate change, poses a real threat to farmers everywhere. “Farmers, especially small-scale farmers have always been really great at adapting on a dime, but what we’re going to see a lot more of in light of climate change is farmers having to implement soil-building practices,” Liz told us.
One of those practices is regenerative farming, which involves minimal-to-no tilling, crop rotation, and native plant farming. These tactics strengthen the soil and give crops a better chance of surviving a turbulent climate.
“Soil is really the root of a system’s ability to be able to remain resilient in the face of climate change,” Liz said. “Healthy soil retains water, builds stronger roots, and healthier, more nutrient-dense crops.”
Climate Change in New York: Challenges & Solutions
Climate change isn’t the only problem threatening modern agriculture. The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on many farmers around the country, but Glynwood took proactive measures to ensure that farming in the Hudson Valley would endure the pandemic.
Like many other businesses, Glynwood closed on March 13th, just two days before the new apprentices were scheduled to arrive.
“We pressed ‘pause’ for a week so that we could get our quarantine protocols in place and so that everyone could be safe,” Liz said. “Then, we welcomed them on site because this was the next step that they needed to be taking in their career as new and beginning farmers.”
The Glynwood team got to work brainstorming. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we help them identify their most urgent needs this year in light of COVID and how do we get them technical assistance that will address those needs?’” Liz told us.
Their task was to supplement farmers’ existing knowledge with advice for how to adjust their financial models — determining what they are spending on supplies to box and deliver products, whether or not they could cut expenses by transitioning to a bring-your-own bag or a market-style CSA? Additionally, since in-person contact was limited, Glynwood taught farmers how to market their products digitally in a virtual world — whether it was Instagram building, cultivating an online presence, and email marketing.
“All of our trainees have been really, really grateful for the opportunities and for the support that they’ve gotten from us throughout the program, but definitely more so during COVID,” Liz said.
The owner of a two-year-old farm in the Hudson Valley was especially grateful, telling Glynwood that what he learned through the Farm-Incubator program enabled him to apply for and receive critical disaster aid and COVID-relief loans.
Although the future of farming in the Hudson Valley might be unpredictable, Glynwood is there to help every step of the way. “We have a mission to ensure that the entire Hudson Valley is a region that is defined by food so that farming will thrive here in the future,” Liz said.
A Passionate, Mission-Driven Crew
Glynwood’s directors, apprentices, ambassadors, and the twenty-person team of staff are dedicated to cultivating the future of farming in the Hudson Valley.
It seems that the real magic of Glynwood stems from the people, the network of farmers, farm students, staff, and coalition-members all working toward the same cause.
In response to the question, “What motivates you about your job?” Liz assuredly answered: the people.
“Nowhere do I find people who are quite as talented and respectful of the land and all of the work that our organization and our partner organizations do within the food and farming sector,” she explained. “There’s something very reciprocal that happens in the relationship between people when part of that work is about stewarding the land and animals.”
Liz concluded, “Without thoughtful farmers who care about the land — both the past and the future of that land — the place that we love and that and that gives so much back to us wouldn’t be here.”
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