It’s the centennial anniversary of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, and 100 years after its founding, less has changed than one might think.
“Here it was 1911, and they were talking about the same things we’re talking about now,” said Larry Eckhardt, former association president.
“Favorable legislation, better transportation conditions, reorganizing the marketing system.”
The trade association, www.nysvga.org, was born that year at a brainstorming session far from home in a meeting of the Vegetable Growers Association of America held at the Hotel Secor in Toledo, Ohio.
New York growers there hatched the idea and soon made it a reality.
Paul Work, superintendent of the Department of Vegetable Gardening at Cornell University, documented the association’s early years and was credited with getting it up and running.
The pioneers recruited members from a variety of local associations, some of which still exist — like the Long Island Cauliflower Association.
Today the New York State Vegetable Growers Association continues to tell the public, the industry and legislators about the $405 million worth of crops grown there.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of promotion, from exhibits at the New York State Fair and August’s Empire Farm Days, to the Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association (conventions),” Eckhardt said.
“I’ve exhibited at the last 20 PMAs in a row for the association. We’d be conspicuous by our absence.”
But membership has been on a downward trend for most of the last 15 years or so.
“We lost some members through attrition in the vegetable business,” Eckhardt said.
“We’ve turned that corner and started back up a little. The Farmers Direct Marketing Association was a separate entity but they have joined us. We’re starting to see an uptick in membership as we gain a few people in the vegetable business who are more direct marketing people than grower-shippers.”
“We’re starting to see more small-farm operations join our group,” he said.
“But you don’t see a lot of guys jumping into vegetables that weren’t there 50 years ago, and you seldom see people move out of grains back into vegetables.”
Nevertheless, proximity to big markets gives New York vegetable growers advantages over larger producers like California.
“Most of our growers are half a day’s drive to one-third of the country’s population,” Eckhardt said.
“I’m actually closer to Boston than Syracuse. In a day’s drive, we’re within half of the country’s population.”
Eckhardt is president of Kinderhook Creek Farm, Stephentown, N.Y. He was president of the trade association from 1991 to 2009.