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Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

(From two recent posts.)

I’m quickly learning that the renewable energy scene in New York is quite a muddle. Individual organizations and people are approaching the issue from every possible angle, but there isn’t much communication going on between all the different efforts. No one seems to know what the big picture is. For New York, this state of affairs means that often people are reinventing the wheel instead of improving upon previous efforts. For me, it’s difficult to find needed information.

Problem: lack of communication makes finding information difficult. Solution: network! Perhaps nobody knows the big picture, but many people know about energy initiatives in their areas. The most successful strategy I’ve tried so far was to send an email to all the county Small Farms Educators asking about farms they know of that are using renewable energy. We only need to schedule 3-4 field days, but I’m also creating a database of all the responses. I’ve gotten leads not only on small farms, but also on renewable energy technology companies and energy education/training programs. I’m sure that I won’t learn about all the renewable energy initiatives in the state, but the database will be a good start. It’ll be accessible for the Small Farms Energy Work Team to use and grow after I leave, too!

Through the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), organic farms now have access to grant money through Organic EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program). NRCS staff and organic representatives met yesterday to develop a working relationship. As the official note-taker, I was in the ultimate fly-on-the-wall position.

This meeting was a great example of what I’d like to see happening in regards to renewable energy in New York. A gap – or should I say, an opportunity for improved communication and collaboration was identified… and people got together to take advantage of it!   …

In addition to these observations, I came away with some questions of my own. I was stunned by the amount and specificity of the information required from a farm to become certified organic and to maintain certification. Fay Benson, my Organic Dairy Initiative supervisor and a host of the NRCS meeting, assured me that the paperwork required is far above and beyond that required for conventional farms. I’m used to thinking of farmers as independent; why would an increasing number of farmers voluntarily submit to this kind of oversight? How much of the consumer food dollar goes to the organic certifiers? Perhaps it’s this kind of regulation that some consumers are looking for. Consumers have been increasingly separated from the food production process since World War II and it seems that many have lost trust as well as touch when it comes to food producers. I’m not sure that farmers deserve the brunt of this sentiment (food processors have certainly affected the system at all points), but if consumers are reassured by stringent organic regulations I can certainly understand the appeal. There’s much musing, discussing, and studying to be done here!

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