Developing a Capstone Project and A Food Trail Map For Cortland County – by Maria
Discovering my capstone project was my first task, a project all on its own, which entailed determining what I was interested in and what was available for me to work on. Unlike my fellow students who undertook more manual labor oriented projects, I decided I preferred the more cerebral, food systems side of our program. In fact, what originally sparked my interest in sustainable farming and local food was the discovery while living in Maryland that raw milk was in fact illegal to buy in that state, a food I was raised on here in NY. I wondered how something as simple as a food choice could be legislated, and what other issues our industrial food system has created for nourishing food procurement.
I had always been interested in farmers markets, which I saw as a means to opt out of the industrial model by allowing producers to sell directly to consumers. My initial ideas led me to interview Becca Rimmel, a market manager for the Ithaca Farmers Market, as well as preliminary planning to attend the Farmers Market Federation of NY 2016 NYS Farmers Market Managers Conference and/or begin the FMM Pro: SUNY Farmers Market Managers Professional Certification Program. But when I heard there was discussion of a potential indoor, year-round farmers market in Cortland County, I hoped that capstone project idea would to fruition over any of the other ideas.
That project was being coordinated by the nonprofit Seven Valleys Health Coalition, Inc. (SVHC), which is a coalition of providers and interested individuals who play an active role in promoting effective, efficient and accessible health and human services to constituents in the service area. They run programs including HealthyNOW!, Mighty Molar Program, and Diabetes Prevention Program among others. Their mission is to cultivate local solutions and collaborative actions that advance the health and well-being of the Cortland community.
The discussion of an indoor market turned out to be part of a 3-year FMPP (Farmers Market Promotion Program) Grant that SVHC was awarded by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), a division of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). The purpose of the grant is to increase consumption of and access to locally and regionally produced agricultural products by supporting, promoting and exploring expansion of all methods of producer-to-consumer direct sales, including farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), roadside stands, and agritourism activities in Cortland County via a dynamic marketing campaign, a new Cortland County “Food Trail” agritourism map, and completion of a market analysis, site location review and strategic plan for a year-round indoor farmers market and commercial kitchen in Cortland County.
As the FMPP grant is a 3-year project Susan Williams, the SVHC project manager, and I decided that the work for my capstone project would focus on the Food Trail Map for Cortland County. The idea behind this map is similar to the many Wine Trail maps the Finger Lake Region is famous for, but focusing on where/how consumers can buy local food. The major goal of my project was to create the template for the map, which included researching what businesses are here, what measures to use to decide who should be on the map, what information it should include, and how it might look. Another goal of the project was to create producer and consumer surveys, the answers to which will be incorporated into the market analysis.
While I do not have a finished product to present, as all my information is being turned over to the FMPP Project Coordinator that was hired, I do feel like I made a worthwhile contribution to the project. It also showed me that I do enjoy this kind of work and ultimately can see myself focusing my career on that path.