AgriForaging business boosts farming community

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By Joe Moskowitz
It was just another day for Nicole Day Gray. She had a meeting with one of the few remaining dairy farmers in the area.

She is trying to help them remain in business by diversifying. Among the things they are considering is making cheese on the farm and teaching farming technique classes. Then she met with Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carol O’ Beirne and Karen Fairbairn of Lazy Crazy Acres “Cow to Cone” gelato, or ice cream, if you prefer. They were discussing this year’s Cauliflower Festival in Margaretville.

Gray was there because she can help get vendors to come to the festival. She knows all of the farmers.

Gray runs AgriForaging Incorporated. It is based out of her home in Dunraven, but her business covers all of upstate New York. It includes everything from a new slaughterhouse in Western New York, to Lazy Crazy Acres in Dry Brook, a company that is a perfect example of some of what AgriForaging Inc. is trying to do.

Sustainable farming
The basic concept, Gray says, is to try and make farming sustainable. In order to do that, farmers have to find new ways to conduct business. A farmer can’t expect to one day switch from dairy to beef cattle and be able to compete with large suppliers like SYSCO or US Foods.
That may mean opening their own slaughterhouse, which will require the farmer to become a butcher, and to package the meat. And then try to sell it.

Many requirements
There are US Department of Agriculture requirements, many of them. She helps with that. There is marketing. She helps with that. There is distribution. She helps with that. And there is the need for money. There are grants to help farmers and she helps the farmers with the grant application process.

Gray grew up on a farm in Vermont and raises barnyard animals at her home with her husband, Scott. His family operates one of two remaining dairy farms in the New Kingston valley. At one time there were more than 50.

She spends a great deal of time on the road. Small, artisanal farmers face the same kind of challenges wherever they are. From a 23-year-old who is trying to start a goat dairy farm in Otsego County to a pork producer in Niagara County. She says one of those challenges is the lack of local and regional distributors.

There are the farmers’ markets, and some stores sell locally produced foods, but she says “Food Hubs” are now beginning to catch on. A food hub is a central location where a large number of small farmers can bring his or her products. Then the big stores or distributors can drive their trucks to the “hub” and fill up. The closest one is in Norwich. She would like to see one in this area.
Gray is a member of many farm organizations and is currently working on 17 different projects. All of them with the same goal, trying to make money as a small, independent farmer. If you want to find out more of what she does, her website is at AgriForaging.com.