Now more than 60 members strong, the Rondout Valley Growers’ Association (RVGA) is celebrating its tenth anniversary year in 2013. The farmers who make up most of its membership may be busy out in the fields this time of year, but that doesn’t mean that organizational activity comes to a standstill. Having built up momentum with a very busy and successful year in 2012, executive director Deborah Meyer DeWan has plenty of irons in the fire for the months to come.
Just this past week, RVGA mounted an exhibit on Rondout Valley agricultural history at the Ellenville Public Library and Museum, located at 40 Center Street in Ellenville. The opening reception will take place from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, and the historical materials will remain on display through June 30.
Establishing this partnership with a cultural institution in Ellenville — a city that has endured more than its share of economic challenges, even before the current recession hit — is one example of the new avenues that DeWan wants to see RVGA pursue in the near future: “building a stronger, larger constituency in support of local agriculture,” as she puts it. “We’re excited to be spending time down there. It’s an important time for people in that part of Ulster County to strengthen their connections and share the bounty of the Rondout Valley.”
One hopeful sign for the Ellenville area, she says, is that the developer of the casino project proposed for the site of the old Nevele Hotel has publicly expressed a commitment to “buy local” for the facility’s restaurants. The organization has also been contacted by the operators of the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa in Kerhonkson and by Hudson River Valley Resorts, LLC, the developer of the proposed Williams Lake Project in Binnewater, asking for advice on how to connect with local food producers. “Local food is hot!” DeWan reports happily.
Indeed, it has become difficult to find a restaurant these days that doesn’t proudly proclaim somewhere on its menu that it uses local ingredients as much as possible. One of the few RVGA board members who isn’t a farmer himself is John Novi, owner of the DePuy Canal House in High Falls, who was famously way ahead of the curve as a champion of locally sourced cooking. Many other chefs and restaurateurs in our region have since followed in Novi’s pioneering footsteps. But it takes a lot more than one-on-one connections between restaurants and farmers — or the opening of farmstands to serve the summer tourist traffic, or weekly jaunts to outdoor greenmarkets in New York City — to keep small family farms financially viable.