When we think of New York and food, most likely our minds turn first to the fancy restaurants and funky joints that serve New York City’s diverse cuisines, but there’s another, equally vibrant culinary side to the Empire State. The state’s artisan food-makers have reached some kind of critical mass in recent years, a trend that has spurred more entrepreneurs to jump in.
In 2011, the state launched Taste NY, a program aimed at marketing New York’s artisan food and agricultural businesses, and this month Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to substantially expand the program and help producers triple their sales.
“We like the trend we are seeing, we like the efforts launched by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. We haven’t seen that kind of effort before and it’s gaining a lot of momentum,” said Barkeater co-founder and Head Chocolatier Deb Morris.
Similar programs that have succeeded in other states have helped foodie communities gain momentum, Morris said.
“People enjoy feeling like part of something that’s growing, that’s big,” Morris explained. “They tend to talk, to share resources, to share ideas and help each other out.”
Over the summer, Taste NY gathered a group of the state’s food businesses in a pavilion at the Summer Fancy Food Show. The lineup included Barkeater Chocolates, a 6-year-old artisan chocolate maker that’s seen positive results from Taste NY.
Community connections are also key to the success of Bobby Sue’s Nuts, another New York-based company that’s seeing benefits from being part of Taste NY, said founder Barb Kobren. Kobren started the company in large part as a way to raise funds for a local cause, the SPCA of Westchester. The company’s nut snacks are one of the many in-state products for sale at Taste NY shops opened last year at LaGuardia and JFK airports.
Kobren’s company is also keeping production close to home — a co-packing facility called Farm to Table, in a former IBM building in Kingston, N.Y., produces her company’s products according to her methods and recipes. It also serves as a production facility for several other local food brands including Rick’s Picks pickles and Super Seedz gourmet pumpkin seeds, as well as for local produce growers Winter Sun Farms, Hudson Valley Harvest and Migliorelli Farm.
Much of the focus has been on prepared-food ventures like Barkeater, Bobby Sue’s Nuts, and others including snack brands Sara Snacker and Emmy’s Organics. But Taste NY has also focused on expanding sales for the state’s fresh fruit and vegetable growers, partnering with farmers, farmer’s markets and other retailers to promote the state’s fresh produce.
Recently, New York’s economic development agency launched a new grant program aimed at encouraging would-be farmers to jump into the foodie fray. The $614,000 New York State New Farmers Grant Fund will issue grants of between $15,000 and $50,000 to help beginning farmers in the state get up and running.
The grants will help new small produce growers get going, and it may also provide new sources of local ingredients, Morris said.
“There are always certain ingredients we would love to source locally,” said Morris. “There are some we do have here like maple and apples. And obviously there are some things that are naturally here that we would love to get at a lower price. If the farmers are getting some kind of cost benefit, that means we will too.”
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