Published November 15, 2018
A new report developed by UB graduate students offers strategies for how Chautauqua County, New York, can harness the food system for economic development and health.
The report, titled “Cultivating Prosperity in Chautauqua County: Leveraging the Food System as a Catalyst for Economic Development,” resulted from a partnership between the community and UB researchers. It was prepared by graduate students from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the School of Architecture and Planning, under the guidance of Samina Raja, a professor in the department.
Students examined the potential of the local food system to enhance food security, accessibility and countywide economic development in Chautauqua, a mostly rural, agricultural county in the southwestern corner of New York state. The report was prepared on behalf of the Chautauqua County government and a community advisory committee.
“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Chautauqua County. Although agriculture faces many challenges, it also has tremendous potential,” says Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello. “Having a strategy to strengthen our food system will benefit everyone in our county and the region.”
The report includes chapters on Chautauqua County’s geography and demographic makeup, as well as food systems sectors such as distribution, processing and retail. It provides information on the role each sector plays in the county’s economy and how the food system can improve the economic and social well-being of the county and Western New York as a whole.
The report also examines the challenges and opportunities in the food system in Chautauqua County, where as many as 13 percent of residents are food insecure.
Many residents lack vehicular transportation, and the distance to stores, combined with low-density retail development, means many people struggle to simply get to a food retail location. Once at the store, there is a lack of healthy food available for sale, and the high price of healthy food is a barrier for residents.
Although Chautauqua County has natural resources suited for agriculture, as well as the second-highest farms per capita across the state, farmers face a variety of challenges. There is often a shortage of agricultural labor, and many farmers are unable to attain new technologies due to high costs and low sales revenues.
Similar to county residents, farmers also lack the transportation infrastructure needed to get their products to markets or distributors. Meanwhile, the average age of farmers is rising, and many are unable to enter the agricultural field due to a variety of barriers, including a lack of startup capital.
The students’ report outlines six key recommendations for the county:
Community partners are working with county government to implement the ideas in the report.
“This document provides a roadmap for strengthening our local government policies, food system, economic development and health,” says Ann Abdella, executive director of the Chautauqua County Health Network (CCHN). “We applaud our local officials for recognizing that improving connections between our farms and consumers can be a win-win for everyone.”
The report was prepared as part of a graduate practicum completed by UB urban and regional planning students and taught by Raja, principal investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab in the School of Architecture and Planning.
The practicum was supported by the Growing Food Connections initiative, which Raja directs. GFC is a national research initiative, funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, that uses local government policy and planning to strengthen agricultural viability and reduce food insecurity.