Sign of spring: farmers market set to open

HUDSON–“Everybody is planting right now,” Virginia Ambrose, manager of the Hudson Farmers’ Market said last week, adding, “planting the same thing as before.”

The Hudson Farmers’ Market plans to open April 25, taking over from the winter indoor market. Ms. Ambrose said, she expects 27 vendors.

To address social distancing standards of the pandemic, the market will be spread over two parking lots, allowing more space between the vendors. Besides its customary lot on the corner of 6th and Columbia Streets, the market will be in the lot along Columbia Street between 5th and 6th streets. The two lots are across the 6th Street and a church building from each other.

The vendors will have gloves, masks and hand sanitizers and there will be a hand-washing station, she said.

The community tent, the craft tent and music have been “temporarily set aside, but they will return, don’t worry,” Ms. Ambrose said.

And despite news reports of farmers dumping food, largely because their restaurant and institutional customers have suspended operations, Ms. Ambrose said that those who vend at the farmers market “aren’t going to go out of business, because [most] don’t sell to restaurants.”

‘I feel so passionate about helping people with modest incomes.’

Virginia Ambrose, manager

Hudson Farmers’ Market

In an interview in February, she thanked the City of Hudson, which annually sponsors the market. And in the lead-up to this year, “We are excited to get started.”

Around Columbia County there are farmers markets in Chatham, Copake, Germantown, Kinderhook, Lebanon Valley and Philmont, in addition to Hudson. Right now each market is arranged differently and sponsored by different people and sometimes staff from different markets have met and discussed common concerns.

One challenge for the Hudson Farmers’ Market, Ms. Ambrose said, is to reach a broad range of people from greater Hudson area. That includes people with economic limitations. “I feel so passionate about helping people with modest incomes,” she said. Although most farmers market food is more expensive than supermarket equivalent, there are programs to make farmers markets more affordable. These include vouchers for “participating farmers markets and farm stands,” for WIC participants and some senior citizens; and $2 “Fresh Connect Checks,” for every $5 a SNAP participant purchases with their EBT card at a “participating farmers market.”

WIC is the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, SNAP is the current name for what used to be “food stamps.”

Ms. Ambrose has managed the Hudson Farmers’ Market since 2000 and is one of the farmers who sell at the market. Her farm is Scarecrow Farm in Claverack, which offers eggs, yarn, 14 kinds of garlic, and heirloom tomatoes. The farm is multi-generational; she and her husband took it over from his parents about three years ago.

A salient feature of Columbia County is its “agro-services businesses,” which include farm machinery suppliers and veterinarians, Steve E. Hadcock, leader of an agriculture and horticulture team for Cornell University Cooperative Extension, said by phone March 9. Some farmers from counties that lack these services come to Columbia County for them.

“When I started, we had over 200 dairy farms,” Mr. Hadcock said. That was almost 38 years ago. “Now it’s down to about 40, though many of the farms that remain are bigger.” In that time, Mr. Hadcock has also seen, “to a lesser extent, a decline in apple and tree-fruit production” and a ‘growth in vegetable and livestock.” Agriculture, he said, changes constantly.

Meanwhile, the amount of land classified as an “agricultural district” keeps growing, albeit now slowly. Every October, people can petition to have parcels of land classified as agricultural and eligible for the tax benefits that go along with that designation under the condition that they will use at least 50% of it for agriculture.

“Farming has always been a business of very slim margins,” Mr. Hadcock acknowledged. “One bad year” might not run a farm out of business, but it can deeply negatively impact the business for years. Dairy farms are still feeling the effect of a recent past run of low milk prices. And farmers face other problems like the fruit flies “hurting crops of small fruits,” including raspberries.

Nevertheless, he says local agriculture remains “strong” and “vibrant.”

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