CCE connects local farms, foodies through Taste NY

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CCE connects local farms, foodies through Taste NY

By James Dean

October 28, 2019

On a recent morning at JADA Hill Farm in Deposit, New York, Ziggy, a 5-month-old Nigerian dwarf goat, playfully head-butted a sister goat from her perch on a sun-drenched slab of rock.

Owners John and Dawn Alfano have fed their 19 dairy goats a breakfast of sweet feed mixed with black sunflower seeds before releasing them to a hillside paddock, where they sunned themselves in dappled grass, snacked on crispy golden maple leaves and hopped on rocks or wooden spools.

Several goats will mate this winter to help grow the small herd, and by next June the Alfanos will resume milking the females for the key ingredient in their handcrafted soaps and creams.

“This is the real deal,” John says of the small-batch soaps that Dawn makes in their kitchen during evenings. “From goat to bathtub.”

Before the tub, many JADA Hill products will make one important stop: shelves at five Taste NY retail stores across the state, whose robust sales have helped make the farm a self-sustaining enterprise.

“It’s way beyond what we ever would have expected,” Dawn said of the business.

Started in 2013 by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and overseen by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, Taste NY promotes food, beverages and gifts made by New York farmers, processors and artisans.

The state has partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), which operates a dozen of the stores, including eight at high-traffic welcome centers.

Richard Ball, state commissioner of Agriculture and Markets, said CCE’s statewide presence has provided valuable “boots on the ground” connecting growers and producers with customers craving local food.

“People care about who grew their food, where they grew it and how they did it, and here’s a mechanism to connect the two, because extension is in every county,” Ball said. “They know the farmers, they know the regions, they know their needs.”

Last year, Taste NY reported sales of $17.8 million, up from $1.5 million in 2014. The program has a retail presence in more than 70 locations, including concessions and carts in state parks, airports and train stations, and pop-up sites.

More than 1,100 vendors rotate through Taste NY stores, selling goods such as syrup, honey, coffee, jam, cheese, beef jerky and spiedie sauce, in addition to soaps, shampoos, creams and pottery. Markets offer grab-and-go sandwiches or make them to order. Some are licensed to sell craft beer and cider.

Taste NY helps advance CCE’s mission to grow the state’s agriculture and agritourism industries, said Victoria Giarratano, executive director at CCE in Broome County and the state extension specialist for food system projects.

Extension educators might assist producers with jarring, labeling or packaging. Food safety and nutrition experts ensure products are shelf-stable and retail-ready, sometimes collaborating with Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. Economic development specialists connect products to the Taste NY retail network, where clerks encourage customers to visit farms and websites.

Shoppers explore made-in-New York food and gifts at the Taste NY store at the Cornell Cooperative Extension-Broome County office in Binghamton, New York.

Jericho Cider Mill will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2020, but new customers are discovering its apple cider, doughnuts and pies at the Long Island Welcome Center’s Taste NY, run by CCE-Nassau County. Pit stops at the Long Island Expressway rest area lead some shoppers directly to the cider mill about 20 minutes away.

“It opens up people’s eyes who stop to grab a snack or use the restroom,” said Kerry Ketsoglou, manager at Jericho Cider Mill. “They see products that they might not necessarily know about, which is cool. It’s been beneficial on both ends.”

Last updated August 25, 2020