Hilltown farmers to be surveyed

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Richard Ronconi shows an onlooker his honeybees in a past Clarksville Heritage Day in New Scotland. He owns Partridge Run Apiary in Berne and participated in a discussion conducted by the Hill and Mountain Farming Project of the Carey Institute, where he said that Hilltown farmers have not been subjected to industrialized farming.

RENSSELAERVILLE — Though they might not bear a resemblance to a factory farm or large-scale apple orchard, farms in the Helderberg Hilltowns need a voice, say survey-takers at the Carey Institute.

A survey of farmers in the Hilltowns is being conducted by the Hill and Mountain Farming Project at the Carey Institute in Rensselaerville. Results could be collected continuously for some time, but it is hoped an idea of what agriculture on the Hill is like will be developed from data in about a month.

The Helderberg Hilltowns have an agricultural landscape unique to its area, as compared to the Hudson and Schoharie valleys, said Rebecca Platel, of the Carey Institute.

“We’re higher in elevation, which creates its own differences,” said Platel. She added that the landscape has rockier, poorer soil, as well.

“Any farmer will probably tell you their best crop is rock,” she quipped.

The variety of crops can be limited due to the landscape; Platel says the agricultural enterprises in the Hilltowns include maple and honey production, grazing animals, and agri-forestry.

“We’re not going to be growing massive amounts of heirloom tomatoes,” she said. “Certain things are more suited to the landscape.”

The idea for the survey, said Platel, came after the institute gathered about a dozen farmers together to collaborate on programs for Hilltown farmers.

One advantage of farming in the Hilltowns, noted Platel, is the lack of industrialized agriculture, something which leads to farms being “organic by default.” Platel said that part of efforts following the survey could involve figuring out how to capitalize on that.

This also can lead to a disadvantage, however, when it comes to processing things like beef. A cattle farmer in the Hilltowns may have to travel 30 miles to reach a slaughterhouse, said Platel. While the Hill and Mountain Farming Project may not be able to bring these facilities to the Hilltowns, Platel hopes the survey could better prepare workshops made accessible to farmers on the Hill, similar to ones run at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Voorheesville.

The survey comes as Albany County has received funding to update its 1994 farmland protection plan, which Platel said would involve some kind of outreach.

“We’re not trying to be redundant,” she said. “We’re hoping to give ourselves a voice.”

Platel also said the intention of the survey and its corresponding project isn’t to rewrite land boundaries or propose extra regulations, but rather simply find out the best way to use the land in the Hilltowns. This may include looking at soil and water quality and sustainability.

Platel predicts the project will do a “first look” at the survey data at the end of March, but welcomes farmers to continue submitting answers after this.

“In theory, we could just let it remain an open archive,” she said.

She noted the survey is easy to access and take, encouraging farmers to participate.

“It’s a pretty low commitment thing,” she said.

The survey can be found at the Carey Institute’s website.

Clarified on March 8, 2017: A paragraph on a federal agricultural survey was replaced with one on a county imitative, as this is what Rebecca Platel was referencing on not being redundant.

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