Liberty, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and U.S. Congressman Chris Gibson, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, today pushed for passage of the Farm Bill, including an extension of the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone designation for Sullivan County and the Town of Wawarsing (Ulster County) that was part of the Senate version of the reauthorization. The measure would extend a designation that helps give the region priority access to federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help grow the local economy and revitalize rural communities. Sullivan County has seen much benefit from the REAP designation, and in 2012 and 2013, communities and organizations received over $485,000 in federal investments.
“New York’s rural communities have felt some of the very worst of this economic downturn – just the latest in a string of years, if not decades, that have been tough on rural families and businesses,” Senator Gillibrand said. “When our rural communities suffer, our entire state suffers. But I know that our rural communities are home to some of our hardest workers and the best that New York has to offer – from our family farms, to manufactures, to innovative small businesses. When we invest in rural families and businesses, we can re-energize local economies, help attract new businesses and new jobs, and get back to enjoying all that life in rural communities has to offer.”
“My top legislative priority for the fall is getting a farm bill enacted into law. It is essential not only for our farmers, but also for our rural communities that we have policies in place, like the REAP designation, that support their future. I have put a focus here in Sullivan County, with an office and a staff that are dedicated to helping Sullivan County succeed. I am proud to join with Senator Gillibrand in this effort and appreciate her continued commitment to getting this Farm Bill done for our New York communities,” said Congressman Gibson.
New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther said, “I support extension of the REAP Zone for Sullivan County because of the economic benefits it brings to our communities, and the jobs it helps to create here. The Food Hub and kitchen facility will help us develop more markets for our local farm products and bring more healthy food choices to local restaurants”
“The Sullivan-Warwarsing REAP zone has been a great assistance to Sullivan County over the years for our economic development goals, especially in our rural and farming communities. We are grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her continued support of the REAP Zone and her commitment to extending those benefits. She is a great friend to our community and has been a tremendous support whenever called upon for assistance,” said Scott Samuelson, Chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature.
Charlie Barbuti, Liberty Town Supervisor, said, “All of us in Liberty take great pride in welcoming Senator Gillibrand to our community. It has been a long time since any of our U.S. Senators have visited our town and it is nice to know that we are not forgotten. We are honored by her visit and excited about the great potential for the new program to be implemented at Cornell Cooperative Extension. Senator Gillibrand’s bringing notice of grant funding to get it initiated is icing on the cake.”
Greg Sandor, Executive Director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County, said, “All of us at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County are very grateful for the on-going support of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the USDA. Her unending support of New York State agriculture and in-depth knowledge about the importance of creating sustainable food systems throughout the region has been crucial to the success of our local efforts. We applaud Senator Gillibrand for her willingness to get out into the community and work ‘hands on’ with farmers not only relating to production issues, but for her tremendous help with our marketing efforts”.
“If you look at statewide statistics, it is clear why Sullivan County and the Town of Wawarsing were placed in the REAP zone over a decade ago. The benefits of the USDA grants obtained during this time have been immeasurable – from replacing the HVAC system at Headstart to money for upgrading the sewer and water systems in Woodridge, Monticello and other communities. This is a wonderful federal program that recognizes the special economic needs of select areas – particularly this one – and then provides tools to provide real relief. Thanks to Congressman Maurice Hinchey for seeing the need – and to Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Gibson for continuing it,” said REAP Zone vice-president Roberta Byron-Lockwood, head of the Sullivan County Visitors Association.
Ira Steingart, Chairman of the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency, said, “The County of Sullivan Industrial Development Agency works to promote employment, trade and economic prosperity, and the support of Sullivan-Wawarsing REAP has been integral to our success, particularly in our recent efforts to secure funding for the Southern Catskills Red Meat Processing Facility and the Sullivan-Wawarsing REAP Food Distribution Hub. The REAP designation recognizes the unique economic challenges that our rural county faces, and enables us to better overcome those challenges. We are grateful for the efforts of Senator Gillibrand, Congressman Gibson, Senator Schumer, Assemblywoman Gunther and Senator Bonacic for their tireless support of our projects and of the Sullivan-Wawarsing REAP Zone in general.”
Heinrich Strauch, Executive Director of the Liberty Community Development Corporation, said, “We are grateful for the Senator’s support for this grant that will help us establish a community facility in Liberty that connects local agricultural producers and consumers. A kitchen where a chef can make healthy and nutritious food from produce that grew on a farm 3 miles down the road, and where products are manufactured that will be sold in the stores on our Main Streets – that’s what ‘think local ‘ is really all about.”
Established in 1999, REAP Zone designations allow disadvantaged rural areas to gain preference for USDA funding. The Sullivan-Wawarsing REAP Zone is one of five special economic development zones in the U.S. designated in the Farm Bill. The designation stimulates local economic and community development by prioritizing grants awarded by the USDA. Projects seeking funding through the USDA can get a boost in their eligibility if the proposals meet criteria established through a REAP benchmark system.
The REAP Zone program provides specialized technical assistance from USDA to designated areas around the country to assist in community development efforts, including rehabbing rural housing, developing local and regional food systems, supporting rural entrepreneurs and small businesses and infrastructure improvements to community facilities, water and wastewater systems and other similar projects that are critical to an area’s economic development. The REAP Zone Program also sets aside funds in various USDA programs that designated REAP-zone areas have special access to in order to make investments in their community development initiatives.
Organizations and communities throughout Sullivan County have worked together to take advantage of this important designation. For example, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County (CCE) and the Liberty Community Development Corporation (Liberty CDC) teamed up to create the EaT Kitchen that will become part of Sullivan County’s food hub and incubate new food-industry and agriculture related economic activity. It will support start-ups and connect small food entrepreneurs with the local agricultural community and enable them to scale up to larger facilities and production levels. The facility will also host nutrition and cooking skills classes for the general public with the goal of improving public health and food education in an economically distressed county of New York State. As demand for fresh, healthy, locally grown food grows it will ensure that Sullivan County has a dedicated facility where the output of the local agricultural community can be transformed by local entrepreneurs into food products that find their way onto the shelves of the small-scale retailers on Main Streets.
Recent projects that received federal funding in part due to the REAP designation include sewer system upgrades and new wastewater treatment plants in Monticello and Woodridge; heating and air conditioning system for the Headstart Center in Monticello; grants to create a red meat processing facility in Liberty and purchase dairy processing equipment; funds to develop a transportation plan and a jobs action plan. The most recent project to receive REAP supported USDA funding is a food hub that will connect local farm products with area restaurants. As part of this project, the Sullivan Cornell Coop Extension received a grant for a commercial community kitchen that will work with food hub participants to develop and promote local products.
In addition to the Liberty Community Development Council award, recent projects that received federal funding in part due to the REAP designation include:
- Over $300,000 for food hub initiatives in Sullivan County, including launching a satellite Food Distribution Hub Project that will provide area farmers an effective distribution line to move their goods to local and regional markets
- $50,000 to provide technical assistance to expand economic development opportunities with the region’s Red Meat Processing Facility
- $75,000 for developing a county-wide comprehensive transportation plan to improve the region’s economy