Anya Tikka | Democrat
Andrea Reynosa, left, president of The Solution Project stands in front of the Narrowsburg School with husband Kevin Vertrees, member of the committee.
Solution Project makes its case
Story by Anya Tikka
NARROWSBURG January 14, 2014 The Narrowsburg School, standing empty ever since 2005, could become a major contributor to sustainable economic growth in Sullivan County area if a local grassroots organization has its way.
The Solution Project (TSP) has joined with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in looking to expand its current focus on food production in the Mid-Hudson Valley area, explained President Andrea Reynosa and Vice President Jennifer Grossman.
Narrowsburg School Adaptive Reuse Project or NSARP is proposing to take the existing school building, and to convert it not only to a food hub for local famers including facilities for meat and dairy aging and packaging, but also to a college-level satellite campus with SUNY Sullivan in Loch Sheldrake.
Grossman who is a part-time consultant with NRDC and full time Livingston Manor resident and a farm owner, sat down to talk to the Democrat about why Narrowsburg and the school are such a good fit for a regional food hub.
“Everything came together at the right time: We have a school that’s been shuttered, it’s 30,000 square feet, it has an updated HVAC system, good infrastructure in terms of its windows and its building, it’s got access to major transportation corridors, it’s located in a growing downtown area, has capacity to have big and small trucks to come in because school buses came in, and parking capacity,” she said. “This is an opportunity. And it’s adaptively reusing a facility. These rural schools were always considered a central meeting area. It can be a place that food is aggregated as it can include processing and packaging, office administration, and training.”
How is this different from the other food processing initiatives taking place in the county?
Grossman explained, “We don’t want to duplicate or build something for which there’s no need. It’s a very exciting thing now, local food… there are so many gaps, we’re aiming to fill a gap, to serve a need that no one else is filling. When it comes to an aggregating site…no one has a place to age meat or cheese. Local small farmers can expand and survive.”
She added, “One of the ways to preserve the disappearing family dairy farms is to give them something with value added: cheese, yogurt, ice cream. They can’t survive selling milk because of federal milk pricing. This is our way of providing farmers means to survive we have to make sure independent business owners are doing well.”
She also added the space could be rented to restaurants or caterers who are committed to bringing local food to their customers both locally and in the city to prepare their food.
Grossman continued, “Education the school has classrooms, we’ve already talked to SUNY Sullivan. They love the idea of being the author of the Food Hub Logistics Program, first ever in New York State how it can become certified. This could be their satellite campus where we train all their food hub students.
“This is now about logistics,” she added. “We need to identify smart people, partners, now we’re looking for funding: grants, federal, applications, Governor Cuomo’s regional funding, and talking to high net worth individuals, lenders. Now we have to raise money.”
Grossman said she was hoping for the funding to be in place by the end of the summer.
Stephen Mitchell, associate vice president for Planning, Human Resources and Facilities at SUNY, gave the college’s perspective. He recounted, “They had approached us. We recently applied for SUNY 20/20 grant for capital improvements. The building money would be spent to support agriculture, and they had written a letter to support this.”
He added if the grant money becomes available, the building would be used for other courses as well, although the curriculum focus around supporting agriculture with food hub is consistent with what the college is doing, so there’s an opportunity to work together.
“The cooperative effort is curriculum related, not Narrowsburg campus related,” Mitchell explained. “They wrote a proposal for the grant, the college is supporting it. We’re expecting an announcement about the grant in June.”
The grant is worth $12 million. “If the grant won’t come through we would still support agriculture and food hub related courses,” added Mitchell.
What the Solution Project’s successful use of the Narrowsburg School would mean to locals:
• Commercial kitchen for rental for food processing and packaging.
• Meat and dairy aging and processing for value added produce like salami and cheese to allow farms to be commercially viable.
• Food hub management to fill the gap that can create local resilience in the food system.
• Distribution network in place.
• Education, classes; possible satellite campus for SUNY Sullivan.