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Posted on: May 12, 2022

Community Impact Network Puts Focus on All Things Agriculture

Community Impact member seated under the pavilion at the small stage at the Wayne County Fairgrounds

The Wayne Tomorrow! Community Impact Network focused on all things agriculture at the May 6 meeting, held in conjunction with Wayne County Ag Day at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

The highlights of the meeting came as a formal presentation from ADCS Consultant Philip Gotwalls, who authored the recently completed Agriculture Innovation Center Feasibility Study and Business Plan and the 2019 Economic Plan for Agriculture, and an informal report from the student members of Future Farmers of America and their adviser, Honesdale High School Ag Instructor Kayla Pohle.

Gotwalls said the Ag Innovation Center (AIC) has been designed to increase the profitability of small family farms, 60 percent of which are now operating at a loss. The AIC is intended to strengthen the entrepreneurial culture in the county and stimulate innovation. “There is a lot of interest in (people) starting a business,” in this area, he explained.

The facility, itself, is expected to provide job opportunities and encourage their development in the community, as well as prepare young people and others for careers in agriculture. “One thing we heard from high school students was that they need to prepare for the agriculture of the future.” Gotwalls said.

He described the AIC as a flexible manufacturing building, where the equipment can be configured and reconfigured to be used in a variety of ways. It also incorporates significant technology that will allow the AIC to aggregate and distribute products that the farmer can trace in real time as specific orders are received and filled.

A pilot program of Food Lockers, whereby farmers, grocers or businesses can deliver to the strategically located clusters of climate controlled lockers when it works best for them, allows their customers to receive a notice via text or email of the delivery, said Gotwalls. The customers in turn, pick up their refrigerated or frozen order at their convenience.

Expected to be up and ready before the Ag Innovation Center is built, the Food Locker Pilot along with the County Pantry Program and the Wayne Memorial Hospital Food Prescription Program represent the initial community buy in that will help to kick start its success.

Community plays a key role in the AIC. Gotwalls said he and his colleagues were surprised and, at times, overwhelmed by the number of people who responded to surveys and provided input, which revealed a deep desire in the community to get closer to their food and the people who grow it. A lot of that interest took the form of a teaching kitchen where they can learn about cooking and the local food system.

Using a model from the Finger Lakes Region of New York, Gotwalls said affluent residents of the nearby metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and New York seeking similar classes could very likely help to subsidize the other locally focused program. There are other innovative revenue generating possibilities, which bodes well for profitability.

The AIC design includes a community-centric space for festivals, markets and other events as well as pop-up retail space. The center is, indeed, innovative. Gotwalls said something like this has never been done as a shared resource . . . until now.

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