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New York’s carbon sequestering small farms outpace ‘big ag’ industrial farms as primary food source for New Yorkers - seen as national model

NY farms beat “big ag” as primary food source, exceed Green New Deal targets, counter antimicrobial resistance, diversify farmland ownership

Photo of Phoebe Schreiner
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Oneonta, New York

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

New York State

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Since 1991 CADE has worked closely with the small & medium sized farmers who form the backbone of NYS agriculture and who continue the State’s farming legacy. CADE’s mission has been to increase the number & diversity of successful farm enterprises and related businesses in NYS. We envision a vibrant NYS food system in which locally owned agricultural businesses thrive as consumers across NYS are nourished by healthy, sustainably produced food.

We embrace the rural Upstate NY values of sustainability, collaboration, inclusion, transparency, & innovation: through our Farm & Food Business Incubator with SUNY Cobleskill in Central NY, we transition ideas to commercially viable agricultural activities, organize interested ag businesses into cooperative groups, and secure financial support to move farm and infrastructural projects into production; through our Value Chain Facilitation Program, we connect small farms in central NY counties with urban demand in NYC, bridging the rural-urban divide and increasing the interconnectedness of all NYS residents. In these ways and countless others, CADE increases the “Triple Bottom Line” of agricultural development by:

--increasing profit margins of farm business through efficient production systems, effective marketing and distribution programs and sound business principles:

--promoting sound environmental production practices such as low input, organic, grass-based livestock production, watershed runoff protection, and efficient distribution to lower “food-miles"

--engendering positive social outcomes such as job creation, farm transition, health benefits of local foods, and locally circulating dollars

Please view CADE’s introductory video which tells the story of who we are, our clients, our values, and how we deliver impact to advance a regional food system. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

New York State (NYS) has a rich agricultural tradition and history, and  23% of its rural landscape remains in production. Many of its population-dense urban areas are within close proximity to farmland which could support a sustainable food supply for those cities, including New York City (NYC)--one of the most important global markets in the world--Albany, Binghamton, Utica, Ithaca, and Rochester. 

NYS has always been an agricultural hub. The Iroquois and Algonquin tribes were its earliest farmers. By the early 1600s, the Dutch colonized NY through a series of bloody battles with the native communities. Shortly after, the English colonized large swaths of land but by the 1700s, tenant wars by European settlers led to the subdivision and redistribution of land. By the time of the American Revolution, NYS’s agricultural land was owned by individual families of European descent. 

Since that time, the structure of private, family owned small farms--today averaging 205 acres--continues to be the norm. Many NYS farms have been passed down by families for generations, with 96% still family owned today. While NYC maintains one of the highest rates of racial and ethnic diversity in the world, upstate farmland continues to be 97% white owned, although there are some ongoing land claims by the Iroquois people.  

NYS maintains a diverse agricultural landscape. Its mountainous topography and harsh winters make much of the land best suited to livestock and grain production, but it also includes fertile valleys known for vegetable and fruit production, such as in the historic Hudson Valley and Mohawk Valley. For centuries, dairy, corn, and meat were the predominant commodities, but NYS is more recently known for its apples, maple syrup, grapes, grains, oilseeds, dry beans and peas, tree nuts, and more.

NYS’s abundant sources of water encompass 17 major watersheds, including the NYC watershed which boasts the globally-recognized “champagne” of unfiltered drinking water. 

Upstate communities revere farmlife as seen in their cultural traditions. From the 1800s to today, maple festivals, cheese and dairy festivals, and other farm and food-related agritourism activities attract locals and tourists alike.

Yet, the mid-20th century rise of the global economy precipitated the onset of a challenging new dawn for NY’s agricultural economy. Market consolidation, the rise of “cheap food”, enhanced economies of scale from California and MidWestern farms, the strengthening of supply chains from the global south, unstable commodity food prices, and other factors delivered a heavy blow. In the absence of economies of scale that make food affordable, buying and consuming local food--once a norm--has become a luxury of the privileged.  Appropriately conceived and effectively executed food systems change can once again position NY agriculture to affect positive environmental, health, social and economic change in the State. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Wholesale/retail buyer preference (fewer vendors/more volume) & consumer demand for box store convenience & price establish CULTURAL norms that disadvantage small farms & local consumption. Administrative culture reinforces the disadvantage: “they don’t have economies of scale & we don’t do anything for those who can’t survive.” (Sec. of Ag Perdue on small farms)

Thus small farms operate in get-big-or-get-out ECONOMY, competing with industrial big ag’s developed supply chains & low cost.

-Investors perceive insufficient ROI from small farms, limiting access to capital for long term profitability

-Ag infrastructure lacks capital to reach economies of scale & struggle to compete with national distributors (e.g. food hubs lack software for supply/demand, multi-supplier invoicing, crop planning, sourcing)

-Youth abandon farms for urban jobs—less than 9% under 35 are farmers—creating labor & transition crisis

-Farms hire immigrant workers but anti-immigrant sentiments/ICE raids stifle a labor force

-Farmer average age is 60, more than 30% are retiring, farmland is going fallow or being parceled off

Cultural & economic factors have a direct negative impact on the ENVIRONMENT that exacerbates documented ecological challenges.

-Increased rain & drought causes rot/pests/erosion, compromising crop yields & increasing food prices, limiting accessibility/affordability of food for low income groups

-Farmers use pesticides/fertilizers to maximize yields to stay competitive despite impacts

-Pressures for farmers to scale up increases CAFO use, animal stress/sickness, use of antibiotics, all contributing to antimicrobial resistance

TECHNOLOGY has the potential to mediate these challenges, but not without well conceived & executed vision of systems change. Currently, technology is out of reach for small farmers.

-Federal subsidies privilege big ag—top 10% of recipients received 77% of $205B disbursed & few public/private partnership investments made

-Methane digesters/flares that reduce livestock emissions are expensive

-Climate-smart farm practices that sequester carbon are not widely known, require expensive equipment. Farmers lack incentive to change practices

-Government climate-resilient grants difficult to access & little known

Appropriate POLICY is needed but lacking  

-Extension/Ag agencies are county-based, lacking macro-view. Put onus on farms to develop business plans/secure markets that pay a premium, ignoring larger economic systems that cause small farms to struggle 

-Regional/county econ development efforts: ad hoc/opportunistic, localized, poorly coordinated (e.g., food hubs serving 2-3 counties go out of business). Not feasible for food system that requires economies of aggregation.

-State leaders/Dept of Ag friendly to ag agendas & small farms but lack direction & long-term dev plan to guide policy, resources, programs (e.g. unable to identify distributors to meet bidding requirements, schools struggle to bid on farm-to-school contracts despite generous subsidy)

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

CADE will orchestrate a NYS Multi-Stakeholder Comprehensive Food System Vision & Plan of Action through a 2-year process that builds ownership by stakeholders for food system transformation, incentivizing systems change. We will:

1) Promote viable business models that create economies of scale in production & distribution through aggregation of NYS food. OUTCOMES:

-Assn of food hubs created 

-more farm adopt cooperative/brokerage bus. models 

-food hubs can bid on F2S contracts: low income school kids/districts procure healthy food

-Holland’s model for energy-efficient indoor growing replicated to overcome NYS’ short growing season 

2) Incentivize use of climate-smart, regenerative farming practices (ex’s here) so farmers become a major part of solution to climate crisis. OUTCOMES:

-profitable carbon-trading system established: farmers earn revenue for sequestering greater quantities of carbon 

-NYS Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA) used to place 1M fallow acres of land into sustainable carbon sequestering production, requiring cities to purchase offsets of 1+ tons of CO2/acre/year (this land, too hilly for row crops, could be offered to livestock farmers for rotational grazing with net negative greenhouse gas production)

-meat sales tax introduced to pay for methane digesters for all livestock producers

-public education campaign calls on consumers to buy certified grass fed meat products; producers incentivized to use rotational grazing, lowering use of methane-emitting manure pits

-new subsidy model introduced that rewards farmers for use of climate-smart practices

3) Promote responsible antibiotic stewardship among livestock producers. OUTCOMES:

-new curriculum for vets/extension agents/livestock farmers adopted based on new research-proven practices that reduce antibiotic use (eg. treatment of high-risk individual animals rather than blanket treatment of herds)

-farmers use improved management practices that reduce animal stress (= prevent sickness = lower infection rates = end of normative use of CAFOs )

-NYS public school districts adopt procurement standards prioritizing contracts with vendors that source meat from farms that are antibiotic stewards

4) Create pipelines of new farmers to transition farmland, replacing retiring farmers. OUTCOMES:

-“Come Farm in NYS” campaigns targeting new Americans, immigrants, refugees, native Americans, disadvantaged groups 

-ag service providers—with staff that represent those communities—roll out new farmer programs/farm schools tailored to their needs setting them up for success

-public education on dignity for all (& other approaches to address rural culture of racism)

-lenders/grantmakers/investors provide capital to new entrepreneurs for land purchasing/equipment/working capital with publicly supported mediation agency that bears the risk for new farmers with least access to capital working in a high risk industry

-Vibrant food scene & social groups attract new farmers

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Thriving, climate-smart small farms are the lynchpin of our 2050 Vision for a regenerative, healthy, and equitable NYS food system. Our Vision renders obsolete the current system in which “big ag” industrial, factory farms exploit & pollute our planet, render life-saving medicines useless, & sustain social inequalities and fosters the following impacts in our NYS communities:


-NYS sustainably produced food accessible to people at all income levels through aggregated business models that create economies of scale

-Profitable/economically viable/technologically innovative small farms create/sustain farm jobs and restore vibrant communities

-Corollary businesses thrive, supporting a second tier of indirect green job creation in ag tech, carbon-trading, and ag infrastructure 

-Policymakers have clear direction to inform government programs


-Affordable & accessible farm fresh food increases community health (e.g., public school districts consume more healthy local food through F2S purchasing, supporting good nutrition for kids of all income levels). 

-Farmland stays in production, not succumbing to housing development pressures

-Enhanced quantities of carbon sequestered, helping NYS meet green targets & achieve carbon-neutrality through CLCPA (see description above)

-Methane emissions reduced among livestock producers with equipment and market incentive to shift practices

-Farmers align with the NYS Antimicrobial Resistance Task Force’s Stop Antibiotic Resistance Roadmap (STARR), reducing antibiotic use in livestock, combating threat of antibiotic resistance & becoming more effective antibiotic stewards.  


-Equitable land ownership creates greater distribution of wealth & advances racial equality

-Disadvantaged groups who traditionally have least access to resources have capital to start new farm businesses

-White rural communities embrace new, diverse farmers new cultural traditions aligned with existing values 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

2050: Thriving, climate-smart small farms in NYS now the national model for a sustainable, regenerative, healthy, and equitable food system. 

Our Food System Vision has 4 cornerstones: 

1) Food availability and affordability for healthy communities. As a trusted agribusiness service agency, we promote viable business models that create economies of scale in production and distribution through aggregation of NYS food. We are working with farmers to aggregate products through CSAs, dairy cooperatives, brokerage businesses, meat aggregators, and more across NYS.

Also, we recently convened 6 food hubs from all regions of NYS to discuss their challenges and ways to increase their efficiency & profitability. All agreed that creating an economy of scale was the cornerstone of their success: to be able to bid on public school food contracts, to meet wholesale/retail demand, and to compete with their national counterparts like Sysco. As a next step, they agreed to create an association of NYS food hubs and consider software and systems to help them become more efficient and collaborative (eg in trucking, logistics, etc.). This work will help all agribusinesses be more profitable, and create a pathway to make food more accessible and affordable.

Additionally, we are implementing a F2S program to strengthen the food supply chain so that public school districts are able to procure at least 30% NYS food, and qualify for a NYS subsidy that will offset the higher cost of local purchasing. Public school districts across the state have a high proportion of school children who qualify for free or reduced priced school meals. Increasing the capacity of agribusinesses to bid on school contracts means we are getting farm-fresh NYS food into the bellies of children of all income levels, who may otherwise not have access. Our program also brings economic development, jobs to rural farming communities, as well as jobs in urban communities where there are food processing industries. CADE is currently the ONLY entity in all NYS that is working to develop the regional F2S supply chain, bringing a structural solution to public school district local food purchasing. We will continue to do this work to fulfill our Vision.

Finally, a central component of our Vision to increase availability and affordability of food is to address NY’s short growing season. We found that Holland has an innovative model for year-round growing that includes thousands of acres of mass greenhouses. We will explore how to replicate this model using highly efficient energy-saving technologies, and identify those ready to invest in this lucrative industry that is easily accessible to NYC. 

2) Farmers are the solution to the climate crisis - incentivizing use of climate-smart, regenerative farming practices. In 2019, NYS adopted the CLCPA, which we will use to advocate for putting 1M fallow acres of ag land into sustainable carbon sequestering production, requiring cities to purchase offsets of 1+ tons of CO2/acre/year.

Building on these efforts, we seek to put in place a for-profit carbon-trading system that enables farmers to earn revenue for sequestering greater quantities of carbon, potentially replicating some European models that exist. We are currently developing a new program to provide education to farmers about best practices on carbon-sequestration since they continue to be little known. An incentive system will help them put it into practice. 

We recognize that dairy and meat producers are responsible for high levels of methane emissions, which lead to global warming. Our solution is to help these farmers overcome the problem through mass distribution of methane digesters to every livestock producer, which creates a DRAMATIC reduction in these emissions. We can make these digesters affordable by lobbying for a meat sales tax, so that the burden of buying this expensive technology is not put on farmers themselves. We will also encourage rotational grazing, by launching a public education campaign that calls on consumers to buy more meat that is certified grass fed. Livestock producers that emit the greatest quantities of methane are industrial, factory farms that use CAFOs (animal pens where livestock live their lifecycle) and require methane-emitting manure pits.  

Finally, we seek to advocate for a new subsidy model at the federal government level. Current subsidies reward “big ag”, but new models from Europe can be replicated that reward farmers using climate-smart, organic practices. 

3) Farmers are champions for antibiotic stewardship - promoting responsible practices among livestock producers. Forty percent of antibiotics are used in livestock. The UN projects that deaths from infections could increase to 10M per year globally by 2050 because antibiotics will no longer be effective because of overuse. We are already promoting 2 programs to make farmers a part of the solution. First, we are currently developing a new curriculum for vets/extension agents/livestock farmers adopted based on new research-proven practices that reduce antibiotic use, involving preventive treatment of individual animals identified as high risk of infection rather than blanket treatment of herds. We will scale this work nationally. Second, in 2019, we successfully piloted a program in the Southern Tier that creates a school food procurement standard requiring vendors to source meat from farms that use antibiotics responsibly.  We are now moving to scale this work in the Buffalo school district--the second largest next to NYC.

4) Farmland stays in production and new landownership advances racial equality and wealth distribution - creating pipelines of new farmers to transition farmland, replacing retiring farmers. Given that NYS already has a large portion of retiring farmers and increasing farms available on the market, we believe the time is ripe to usher in new farmers that will help diversify farmland owners and support the distribution of wealth.  Farmers may be cash poor, but they are land rich. Building on our current work serving beginning farmers, we will launch a campaign targeting new Americans, immigrants, refugees, native Americans, other disadvantaged groups predisposed to farming/urban gardening. Programs will be tailored to meet their needs and driven by those from existing farmer of color communities with whom we have partnerships. We will also address the “rural culture of racism” by working with racial justice organizations to transform the context, making NYS a safe and dignified place to work and live. Finally, since becoming a farmer requires significant resources, and because disadvantaged groups have the least access to capital, we will lobby the NYS government for the creation of a mediation agency for lenders/investors that can bear the risk especially since farming is a high risk industry. 

In sum, our “theory of change” is that we can accomplish all of these cornerstones by bringing together stakeholders to build a consensus plan--a NYS Multi-Stakeholder Comprehensive Food System Vision and Plan of Action--owned and implemented by all stakeholders involved because they see INCENTIVE to do so.  We anticipate a 2-year process that builds ownership by stakeholders for food system transformation by 2050. The plan will set targets and include a timebound implementation plan. To mobilize broader public support, CADE’s Executive Director also delivered a TedX Talk on “Why America Needs a New Foodshed” in September 2019, laying out our vision. She published a similar op-ed in the Albany Times Union to reach policymakers and consumers, and regularly speaks in public venues about this agenda.


CADE aspires to win the Rockefeller Foundation Vision Prize to provide us with the resources we need to realize our Vision--building on the work we’ve already started. We have the potential to promote and scale our food system model in other regions across the U.S.--especially those with small farm infrastructure like ours, including across New England (harmonized with the New England Food Vision), the Northeast, and Southeast. Realizing a Food System Vision for NYS is strategic for the U.S., as it is a national leader. 

In 2018, under new leadership and through our own organizational strategic planning, CADE leadership determined that one of its most important priorities to support NYS’ agricultural development was to facilitate a 30-year multi-stakeholder comprehensive Vision and Plan that would put forward an “end state” for all stakeholders to work toward. Coincidentally (prior to our knowing about Rockefeller’s Vision Prize), we called this “Vision 2050: NYS as the Northeast’s Leading Foodshed”.  It reflects the same cornerstones as this application. In 2019, we secured NYS and federal grant funding to undertake this work in partnership with NYS’ leading agricultural research institutions--Cornell University and SUNY Cobleskill. 


There are a number of challenges we anticipate facing in the realization of our Vision. First, it is premised on assumptions. For it to be realized, we must a) conduct continued due diligence and research and b) be prepared to adapt to what emerges if our assumptions are incorrect or if the overall context changes. The vision assumes--

-NYS government will stay friendly to small farm agendas and invest in policy/resources

-aggregated business models are profitable

-farmers will agree to adapt aggregated business models potentially overcoming individualistic value systems

-NYS food hubs will proceed with creating an association

-The local food movement will be sustained

-Any other of our strategies and approaches will stick!

“Big ag” will not go down without a fight. We can anticipate that they will adapt to market changes to keep a monopoly on the food market. We will also adapt and evolve as needed. 


We consulted with more than 100 stakeholders. SEE ATTACHED GRAPHIC

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Jessica Frierich, Rockefeller Foundation staff

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Photo of CEAGRO Centro de Desenvolvimento Sustentável e Capacitação em Agroeocologia

Thats amazing work. Congrats! Its a big challenge develop a work like this in one of biggest cities of world. We have our work in south of Brazil almost 22 years and we can see the people culture changing for better. What ecological indicators you use to mensure the capture of carbon? Let me know in