Ulster County Celebrates Thriving Food and Beverage Cluster
Just a few years ago, if local farmers and food entrepreneurs needed assistance getting their products into the hands of consumers, there were few local businesses or organizations to turn to. Today, with growing entities like Farm Bridge and Hudson Valley Harvest working to aggregate, process, and distribute farm products, Ulster County is poised to become a vibrant hub for local food. At the end of 2016, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein was joined by Ulster County Legislator James Maloney, Farm Bridge CEO Jim Hyland, and Paul Alward of Hudson Valley Harvest at a press conference to celebrate the efforts of local food companies and to announce the availability of low-interest loans to the county’s growing group of food and beverage businesses.
Producers in Ulster County not only have immediate access to New York City, but to major markets throughout the Northeast, such as Boston and Philadelphia. Access, however, doesn’t automatically translate into sales. Producers and farmers need crucial infrastructure to get produce from the farm to consumers, and businesses like Farm Bridge and Hudson Valley Harvest help fill the gap.
Hudson Valley Harvest, founded in 2011 and located at the former IBM site in Kingston, aggregates and distributes fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, beef, dairy products, and items like honey and hot sauce to restaurants, retailers, and institutions in the Tri-State area. Farm Bridge (formerly Farm-To-Table Co-Packers) provides another important link between regional farmers and consumers, packaging as well as processing farm produce into value-added products. With over 50 farms as partners, Farm Bridge offers local products to institutions as well as to retailers, aggregating produce from farms throughout the region and ensuring that they get to market. Because they extend the shelf life for produce and create a revenue stream for farmers, value-added food products are a critical building block for a strong regional food system. Through the company’s “Tomato Tuesdays” program, for example, farmers were invited to deliver up to 250 pounds of red plum tomatoes each week during the growing season to be processed into salsa, basil-tomato sauce, or other shelf-stable products sold at retail locations throughout the region.
Here in Ulster County, the food and beverage manufacturing sector grew 64 percent between 2009 and 2014. In 2014, Ulster had over 500 farms, 44 food and beverage manufacturers, and several aggregating and distributing companies, including Hudson Valley Harvest and Farm Bridge. It was during this same period that Local Economies Project (LEP), recognizing the importance of local food system infrastructure, facilitated an investment in Farm Bridge. LEP has also provided funding to the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC), a non-profit organization that provides technical services and advisement to food and farm businesses. Todd Erling, HVADC’s executive director, was on hand at the press conference to help celebrate the news, as was Brooke Pickering-Cole, LEP’s associate director of community relations.
Today the industry provides over 1,300 jobs to Ulster County workers. With the announcement of new, low-interest loans for the food and beverage cluster, Ulster County farmers and producers are positioned to benefit from this increasingly robust distribution and support infrastructure.
As Hein told those in attendance at the press conference, “Ulster County’s food and beverage is incredible….It’s bigger and more exceptional than you think.”
Read the full press release from Ulster County.