Thursday, March 12, 2009
Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Pride of New York
The New York State Department of Agriculture (NYSDA) has been ahead of the curve for 14 years in developing economic stimulus programs. Started in 1995, the NYSDA has been encouraging the use of New York State products in its “Pride of New York” program.
Originally developed to assist New York State farmers with their marketing efforts, the Pride of New York program has recently shifted
its focus to area restaurants and chefs and local consumers. Mr. Robert Lewis, the Special Assistant for Market Development for the NYSDA spoke to the Guardian about their stimulus programs already in place. “We are the marketing arm for local farmers,” Lewis noted.
“Our job is to encourage restaurants and consumers to buy local products.
With our ‘Pride of New York’ program we have a valuable franchise. We are encouraging local producers and restaurants to sign up and
display our logo in their windows so consumers can be assured they are helping the local economy”. A consumer seeing the green and
white logo in a supermarket or restaurant window can be assured that the establishment is serving New York products.
“This is not an ‘all or nothing’ venture” Lewis explained. “We know restaurants and supermarkets cannot just purchase only New York State products. But the restaurants who join our program, however, are saying to their customers that they are trying to buy as much as possible from local vendors and farmers. And we’ll stand behind their guarantees”.
On the NYSDA website, www.agmkt.state.ny.us/AP/PrideOfNY, a Westchester resident can search for local food producers, farmers’
markets, and restaurants dedicated to using New York State products. In addition to local supermarkets and farmers’ markets and distributors, several Westchester producers have already joined the Pride program:
Krasdale Foods, White Plains: Grocery Wholesaler
Artuso Pastry, Mt. Vernon:
Bakery Barrie House Coffee, Yonkers: Coffee Manufacturer
Bombay Emerald Chutney, Yorktown: Gourmet Chutneys
Captain Lawrence Brewing, Pleasantville: Microbrewery
Carrillo’s Salsa, Rye: Gourmet Salsa
Joes BQ, Purchase: Barbeque Sauce
Raw Indulgence, Ardsley:
Soul Veggie Delicious, Mt. Vernon: Speciality Foods
To date there is only one Westchester restaurant signed up for the “Pride of New York” program – the Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville.
In upstate New York, the pattern is much different. Scores of local restaurants and even college dining halls such as the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology are all participants of the Pride program and strive to use New York State food products in their menus.
And they have a wealth of producers to choose from. According to the NYSDA, 25% of the State’s land is farmland; the State has over 26 million square feet of greenhouses, is the third largest producer of maple syrup and milk in the nation, has over 60 microbreweries, and is the largest grapejuice-producing state in the country.
At the International Restaurant and Wine Expo in the Javits Convention Center in New York City recently, the NYSDA set up an entire “Pride of New York” section dedicated to local wineries and food producers, many of whom were from the Hudson Valley area.
The Guardian spoke at length to several of the vendors displayed. The owner of “My Brother Bobby’s Salsa”, Robert Gropper, of Poughkeepsie proudly told us that his salsa was definitely a food product that New York could be proud of – it was voted best overall product in its first appearance at the Restaurant Show in 2000. Gropper’s pride in his products and upbeat attitude was infectious: “What recession?” he boomed. “I’ve had my best January ever”.
Gropper has noticed that the consumer end of his business is increasing: “Families are eating out less, but they want good food at home. I have to be aware of how the economy and the market shifts and respond to what my customers want”. Gropper not only responds to consumer changes, he backs his products with a 100% Guaranteed Sales Program to his customers taking full responsibility for the turnover
of fresh products. As a Pride of New York member, Gropper is aware of the impact of supporting neighbors and donates his time and products to local food banks in turn.
Gropper noted one of the advantages of Westchester residents buying local produce, “When you buy locally, you know exactly where the produce is coming from. And when you produce locally, you have the same advantage”.
Gropper recalled the tomato scare of last summer, “I know the farmers I buy my tomatoes from so I knew my products were safe. I buy my tomatoes, peppers, basil and cilantro in season from local farmers such as Wallkill View Farm in New Paltz, New York.”
As we interviewed Gropper at his display, several of his loyal customers/fans approached to share their stories of how much they loved his products. confirmation that consumers who buy locally literally do know exactly who they are buying from. In addition to knowing the
source, and helping the economy, freshness is a major benefit of buying locally. Jessica Chittenden, Director of Communications for the NYSDA noted that, “Food tastes better when it’s purchased locally. It hasn’t been sitting on a truck for two days or on a train for five days”.
Gabriel, at the Breezy Hill Farms booth, offered samples of locally produced fresh apple cider. One sip proved his claim that, “It was like drinking an apple. Our cider is fresh and there is no aftertaste,” he said. “When you start with a great product, you get a great taste,” he added.
Like most New York State food producers, Breezy Hill has expanded into other products. “We have 10,000 chickens on our farm,” Gabriel noted. “They eat corn and grass so their eggs are completely natural. We also make healthy cookies using no white sugar. And since everything is fresh, you taste it the way nature intended”.
In addition to the “Pride of New York” symbols, many local food producers also employ some “tried and true” methods to attract attention to their products. Stephanie, from Esposito’s Sausage, tempted the attendees at the Javits Center trade show with samples of locally-made gourmet sausages. “We sell in the New York area and our owner, David Samuels, is from Pleasantville,” Stephanie said.
Champlain Valley Specialty Foods in Keeseville play up their local benefits when negotiating food distribution contracts. The New York City school system will soon offer their individually packaged sliced apples in every school lunch. White Plains Linen, a catering and party supply service, also attended the Javits Center event and offered displays and instructions of napkin folding techniques to customers and consumers.
As their account representative, Wayne Wilson, noted, “Good food should be displayed well”. The NYSDA is increasing its efforts to encourage the use of local food products. At the Javits Center show, New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker encouraged New York restaurants to source more New York food and beverages for their menus. “More people are getting a true taste of the Empire State when dining out,” the Commissioner said, “because more restaurants are including New York grown and made products in their recipes and on their menus.
I applaud those establishments for ‘buying local’ and encourage more chefs to do the same. The Pride of New York program can help them by making connections to more than 2,000 New York farmers, wineries and food processors, offering a variety of delicious items, all made or
grown here in New York State.”
To further encourage the use of New York State products on area restaurant menus, the NYSDA offers cooperative advertising funding, up to $5,000 to promote the use of specialty crops, such as local fruits and vegetables, maple and honey products on their menus. Restaurant owners who are already participants in the “Pride of New York” program see the positive results first-hand from their customers.
As Philip McGrath, the owner of the Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville, noted, “At the Iron Horse Grill more and more of our customers are genuinely interested in where their food is coming from. They are always excited to hear that we are using locally grown and sourced New York State products on our menus.
Whether it be oysters from Fishers Island, chevre from Bedford Hills, honey from Putnam County, wines from the North Fork and even beer brewed right here in Pleasantville, these items sell themselves. When we tell our diners that the salad they are about to eat or that the apples in their dessert came from the local farmers who bring their wares to our Saturday Greenmarket they are always impressed.”
Last week, “advisers” on the Oprah show encouraged her millions of listeners to stop going out to restaurants and cut back on their personal spending while this recession lasts. Unfortunately, this advice will only serve to worsen the current economic crisis. McGrath noted that while the Iron Horse is a small, intimate restaurant, “We still employ over 20 people. They are individuals with families or even local teenagers paying their bills. When a restaurant closes it affects more than just the owner”.
McGrath has seen four neighboring restaurants in Pleasantville close in the last few months, the latest, Jackson & Wheeler, just three weeks ago. If more local residents follow the advice of the “experts” and cut back on eating out in local restaurants, that will put even more owners out of business, possibly causing them to lose their homes.
Most business owners leverage their homes to finance their businesses, and will put both local neighbors supporting their own families and teenagers paying for college out of jobs. A better way for Westchester residents to survive the recession and stimulate the local economy
is to stop buying foreign-made products or even products from out of state.
Survivors of the Great Depression and the two World Wars are used to “looking for the union label” as a way to guarantee American made products. Westchester residents should now also look for the “Pride of New York” symbol in local supermarkets and restaurants to guarantee that the money they are spending is being used right here in our own backyards keeping our neighbors employed and in their homes.