Located in upstate New York, Oneida County and the surrounding region are home to abundant natural resources, a long history and culture of agriculture, and numerous food supply chain players – meat and dairy processors, aggregators, food hubs, distributors, and anchor institutions. While uniquely positioned for growth with these assets, the region is also experiencing some challenges common to agricultural economies – including escalating concerns about the dairy industry, a maturing local food market, and various gaps in coordination or utilization of assets. In 2018, KK&P was retained by the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Oneida County (with funding from a USDA Rural Business Development Grant) to develop a systemic and tactical set of recommendations in order to address some of these issues and to create stronger connections between Oneida County farmers and consumers.
Led by Senior Consultants Ben Kerrick and Shayna Cohen, the team first engaged in an extensive research effort. Interviews and roundtables were conducted with many of the region’s food system stakeholders, including farmers, various food businesses, farmers’ market staff, institutions, and academics, with the objective of capturing as broad a range of perspectives as possible. KK&P also reviewed and evaluated other recent assessments and research from the region to inform potential strategies.
One additional research component and deliverable of this initiative was a food system asset map. KK&P worked closely with the Oneida County Department of Planning to identify and geocode various datasets in order to visualize the area’s food system assets, including food hubs, agritourism destinations, farmers’ markets, grocers, etc. By presenting the information in this interactive map, the team – and the greater public – could access the disparate data in a meaningful and user-friendly way in order to better guide decision making.
After completing this research, the team presented a set of recommendations that responded to the specific conditions of Oneida County – and there has already been significant progress toward implementing them. In order to advance connections between local producers and consumers, for example, the CCE recently produced the event, “Taste of the Mohawk Valley,” which successfully showcased local foods and beverages. The CCE is also working to build on the county’s meat processing and distribution assets, as per KK&P’s recommendation, by investing in strategic marketing and branding initiatives. Further, the CCE team is supporting the development of a Workplace Delivery CSA, where local produce can be delivered straight to members’ workplaces, in an effort to improve the convenience of local foods. By strategically activating these key leverage points, Oneida County has started to build a stronger regional food economy. These efforts will not only improve the livelihoods and economic impact of people in the food sector, but also support the development of a more vibrant place-based food system, with health and quality of life improvements for all of the county’s residents.