Agribusiness

Agency losing advocate to budget cuts

By: DENISE A. RAYMO

MALONE — Cornell Cooperative Extension has dissolved the job of its rural and agriculture-education specialist, which means Bernadette Logozar will be gone as of Jan. 31.

She was told Dec. 23, but the announcement was made Monday by Extension Director Rick LeVitre, who said it was a budgetary decision “that was not made lightly.”

He said it would have cost about $50,000 to keep her on the job this year.

Logozar’s departure leaves 17 full- and part-time employees at Cooperative Extension and means more regional sources will be tapped from neighboring counties’ extension offices to fill gaps, he said.

“And of course, we’ll have to pay for it,” the director said.

‘TREMENDOUS CONTACTS’

LeVitre will meet with the remaining staff next week to assess where they are and where they are going without the specialist position.

“Bernadette built up tremendous contacts and tremendous resources and accomplished a lot. I can’t take that away from her, nor would I want to,” LeVitre said. “But now, we just have to look at how we’re going to go forward.”

Logozar said she had been seeking contracts and applying for grant funding right along, knowing her position would remain only as long as outside money could be found.

“I’m sad, and I feel bad for the farmers that the position is being eliminated,” she said.

The job was created as a direct result of a 2001 needs survey conducted with farmers by the Franklin County Farmland Protection Board to help develop other types of farming operations beyond traditional dairy farms.

“This is what the farmers and the county wanted — to bolster alternative agriculture,” she said. “They saw the emerging signals” that the business of farming was changing rapidly.

For example, there was one farmers market in Franklin County when she started with the agency.

Now, there are five, with a sixth under discussion involving Salmon River Central School students in the FFA program. They would operate the business beginning this year on space provided by the Town of Fort Covington.

“This will foster a whole new crop of young farmers,” Logozar said.

EXPANDED FOOD GUIDE

She taught a variety of computer-based programs on desktop publishing and social media for farmers, and other small-business owners can use the tools to better market and promote their products and services to broader audiences.

She helped organize the annual Harvest Festival to showcase farmers’ goods and encourage consumers to buy good, locally raised and produced products; participated in the Homestead Festival at Paul Smith’s College; expanded the annual Food Guide distributed in the tri-county area to include more farmers and activities; and lined up farmers to participate in new marketing strategies for 2014.

BLOW TO AGRI-TOURISM

Logozar also recently completed work on a strategic agri-tourism plan for the Franklin County Legislature, which was funded using $25,000 in tourism money from the 2013 budget.

The task was to find ways to pair farmers and other growers with visitors interested in experiencing some aspects of agriculture, such as maple-syrup and honey production and alpaca and sheep farming.

She said she developed a list of farmers leaning toward participating in agri-tourism this year, and they agreed to take part if she would conduct some classes to help them prepare for the new business challenges.

One of the most promising was to be a partnership with the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort that would have promoted agri-tourism opportunities in Franklin County to all of its thousands of guests and their families.

“But none of it can happen because the position has been cut,”  Logozar said. “It’s very upsetting and disappointing. I worry about the farmers and what will happen to them.

“I’ve been honored to be able to work with the farmers, not just in Franklin County but all over the region.”

She said she will follow through with all of the commitments she had made for the month, “and I want to tell farmers and anyone, don’t hesitate to call. 

“I’m still here.”

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com

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