Republican, Democratic lawmakers tour upstate farms

What does it take New York farmers to get food onto your dinner plate? A group of lawmakers from the all over the state are trying to answer that question. They toured a number of farms and agriculture businesses Thursday, learning what challenges they’re facing as they continue to navigate the pandemic.

The message from lawmakers Thursday was that food is not a partisan issue, and understanding the challenges upstate farmers face is critical for Democrats and Republicans, no matter which district they represent.

"This is not a political issue, no matter who you are, where you live, you deserve access to eat locally-sourced healthy food," said Democratic state Sen. Michelle Hinchey of Saugerties.

Lawmakers say understanding what farmers are up against can help us better understand what it takes to get something on your dinner plate.

Republican Assembly member Chris Tague of Schoharie organized the tour of upstate farms for 30 legislators, his third year doing so.

"Everyone is having a tough time keeping employees or finding employees to work. Secondly, those that are in the dairy industry are having a tough time with processing with their products," Tague explained.

A lot of the food on families’ tables downstate has come from farms in our area.

"The farm businesses and the farms that we have in upstate New York are the ones that are feeding the people in the more densely populated urban areas," Hinchey said.

Even as the pandemic continues to create issues for farms, farmers like John Ng, owner of Hudson Valley Fisheries, are still using innovation to improve their operations.

"Paired with our fish farm is a hemp farm that uses our nutrient streams from the fish farm to grow hemp," Ng said.

Ng says the pandemic has shown just how important his operation is in the state’s economy.

"A key learning here is having local options for all of our food sources is really a key to food security and resilience for our food production systems," he said.

Ng also says part of that innovation is continuing to expand as an employer. He originally planned to have 20 to 30 people working for him, but is now up to 80 people.