The Hunter Foundation, a local economic development, real estate improvement, and housing non-profit, purchased a historic but overgrown farm in the heart of Tannersville, New York in 2016. With abundant enthusiasm and growing demand for local produce on the mountain top, the Hunter Foundation took on the laborious work of reanimating and transforming the defunct plot into Fromer Market Gardens. It became a small but mighty 2-acre organic farm and farm-stand complete with state of the art and climate-controlled greenhouses full of nightshades, a mushroom patch bursting with shiitakes, two tiers of rotating seasonal vegetables and flowers, and a bustling collection of beehives to pollinate crops and produce honey for sale. Chickens are arriving in September.
Four years into rehabilitating the property and with demand for their wares exploding during the pandemic, the Hunter Foundation had worked with the urban planning consultancy River Street Planning & Development to secure grant funding from Empire State Development (ESD) in order to explore the potential ways the farm could expand, determine the impact those expansion strategies could have on local job creation and workforce development, and engage the communities on the mountain top in a rigorous and creative conceptual development process. With these goals in mind, The Hunter Foundation brought in KK&P to lead the strategic planning and community engagement processes.
Working remotely with a highly motivated and tightly knit team from the Hunter Foundation, KK&P conducted nearly 20 in-depth interviews with community stakeholders and designed and analyzed a web survey that received more than 300 individual responses from community members, current and potential retail customers, current and potential wholesale clients, and others just curious about the farm.
Six themes emerged through this process:
As spring turned to summer, the apparent recession of the worst days of the pandemic and the rollout of vaccines caused the working landscape to shift under our feet and brought forward a critical question and opportunity unthinkable just a few months earlier: the possibility of hosting community engagement meetings in person, on the farm. And so, after much deliberation, we collectively decided it would be both safe and most beneficial to the project, our client, and the communities on the mountain top to invite participants for live farm tours and facilitated discussions in mid-July. In four such events we were able to actively engage more than 40 people ranging from school district officials, local business owners, multigenerational locals, seasonal residents, Hunter Foundation Board members, beekeepers, chefs, master gardeners, parents, and the farm’s staff (and a few dogs too!), all from the breezy, open, and festively lit setting of Fromer Market Gardens’ barn.
As happens so often, the benefits of gathering people together in one place, to share experiences and discuss ideas big and small, were as invigorating as they were informative. After so many Zoom conferences, phone interviews, and virtual meetings, the tangibility and substance that these live events enabled make it clear how irreplaceable live events are for the kind of work we do.
The original concepts were tested, questioned, and in some cases challenged outright. Over the next month, we will be pulling all the findings together into a framework to grow the farm in step with the community’s priorities, needs, and appetites.