Apple PodcastsAmazon MusicSpotifyiHeartRadioPlayer.fmGoogle Podcasts

In this episode of the Spilled Salt podcast, our host Maureen Ballatori joins Matt Horn, Director of Municipal Services at MRB Group, to discuss leveraging economic development to strengthen brands, farms, and local communities. 

Creating market opportunities within your community.

Maureen and Matt start by discussing the growth of Geneva, New York, to support the food, beverage, and agriculture industries. The goal of that community was to find a niche for economic development in the community and align it with the market’s needs. 

Geneva’s potential was centered as an innovation district with academic institutions, entrepreneurs, and researchers in the food and beverage field. The city invested in co-working spaces, supporting both food entrepreneurs and a diverse range of startups. 

Matt Horn explains that their approach in rural communities focuses on utilizing existing farming resources and creating local markets for agricultural products. He emphasizes the importance of farmers’ markets, kitchen incubators, and connecting small-scale producers to larger-scale distributors. 

By creating these ecosystems and supporting entrepreneurship, we strengthen the local economy and preserve the identity of farming communities. 

Maureen and Matt also touched on the role of CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands in sourcing, creating, and selling food and beverages, highlighting the need for strong networks and collaborations among entrepreneurs. By actively networking and exploring opportunities, Matt said, businesses can find grants and other forms of economic development support. 


This transcript has been edited from its original form to support readability.

Maureen Ballatori: I’m Maureen Ballatori, and this is Spilled Salt, a podcast on the thrills and spills from the food, beverage, and agriculture industries. My guest today is Matt Horn, who is the director of municipal services at MRB Group Engineering, Architecture, and Surveying. But really, I know him, and what you will find in today’s conversation is that he’s a strong community builder kind of guy. 

Our conversation really is around how farmers and folks in food, beverage, and agriculture can leverage economic development to help build stronger brands, stronger farms, and become an even greater asset to their local community. Enjoy the conversation.

Thanks for joining me today. I’m going to jump right into our questions. And so I want to start way back in 2016 when we first met when you were at the City of Geneva, and you were creating a coworking space that you saw as an opportunity to support the food bev and ag industries in the region. Explain that a little bit. How did you see that working out?

Matt Horn: Sure. Well, we were really focused on economic development, generally in Geneva. It was a community that had struggled over the years financially, and the economic health of our community members was a bit volatile, which creates a volatile economic situation or financial situation for us as a community. 

And over the years, lots of different, almost scattershot approaches. heavy industry, bring it, bring it, whatever you’ve got, what we would call kind of a 1980s-chasing-smoke-stacks thing. Tourism, which obviously is a big thing in the Finger Lakes. 

The Finger Lakes brand was really on a run-up with respect to tourism. So hotels and that kind of stuff. But nothing seemed to really take off if you will. We were getting wins, but it wasn’t really doing anything significant for our bottom line. And… So we kind of just put it on pause and said, all right, let’s really think through what’s the best fit for us economically. And I brought a whole crew of people together. Go ahead. 

Maureen: Essentially, you’re saying that those things like big business, you know, growing companies and tourism in the region was helping the region, but you weren’t seeing that centralized impact in Geneva itself, right? That’s what you were trying to impact.

Matt: Yeah, we were trying to find our place in it, right?

You know, we’d had economic analysts come into the community, economic development experts, and what they all said was, you’re going to get lost in the noise, right?

Manufacturing and tourism, those are certainly things that are happening in New York State, but what’s your niche? What’s your place in that?

And so we… It was around this time that I ran into this concept of innovation districts. And it comes out of Brookings and, and the thought process is, you know, look, look around at what your potential innovation assets are. And they were things like, he talked about things like academic institutions and entrepreneurs and, and these, these kinds of things. 

And it just turns out, you know, Geneva’s got these world-class, uh, researchers in the food and food and ag field, food and ag, food and bev field with Cornell having an institution right here. Hobart and William Smith had really started to put some muscle behind their entrepreneur program, entrepreneurship program. Finger Lakes Community College has always been kind of a great partner on the workforce side. 

So we said, OK, that’s clear. We have that part of the innovation district’s concept covered. What’s next? And what’s next was like a great place for entrepreneurs to bump into one another, right? Um, for lack of a better word, like a social setting. 

And for anybody who knows Geneva or has been through Geneva, we have this amazing downtown, um, just a, an incredible, well-preserved historic core, um, where there was starting to be a buzz about, about Geneva’s downtown. And then finally the, um, the, the Brookings thought leadership talked about, all right, now how do you put formal. opportunities together for people to actually go do the work.

And so we saw, we have the industrial park, it’s a city-owned industrial park, but we also had this Cornell Tech Park, this ag and food technology park, which had acreage, had small-scale production spaces. So like, okay, if we wanted a hundred thousand square foot facility, we could drop it in the industrial park or drop it in the tech park.

If we wanted a startup manufacturer, someplace, someone like Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods, which is a fantastic producer in Geneva. Little small manufacturing space, a couple thousand square feet to pilot your project and then even grow it into some scale, right? 

But what about the think piece, right? What about the folks who are just getting started? They’re at home, they’re on their kitchen table scratching out ideas, they’re starting to get crowded at that table, and they need to go get some space away from the home.

And we had come to understand this concept of co-working. And it turned out we found some great real estate partners in the community. And the city council and city leadership were excited about co-working as a concept. And so the city invested and pulled together a co-work downtown. And initially, we wanted to create some density create some excitement around it. And so while we always had it, you know, at the front of mind that this is a place where food entrepreneurs are coming, will come and get started.

It ended up being a lot more than that, which was great. It was a much more diverse crew.

Maureen: Yeah, that’s great. So it was really, you were recognizing where the opportunity was for continuing to kind of support this food, bev and egg, natural entrepreneurship kind of thing that was already happening to help create the first piece that would launch them into the other resources that were already available in the region. And so now that you’re with MRB group, you’re really kind of taking this concept of what you helped impact in Geneva. and take it on the road, and you’re working and consulting with companies and municipalities all over the US, right, for this. How are you seeing communities throughout the United States kind of prioritize or work in food, bev, and ag concepts into their regions?

Matt: Yeah, so we work in largely rural communities, no matter where we are.

MRB Group is a big company, but I call it a big company, but a small shop. We grew up in these rural spaces, particularly here in the Finger Lakes. And so you start from where you know. 

I mean, I joined MRB just a couple of years ago, five or six years ago, and I started on Castle Street. My office is across the street from my old office. I started on Castle Street. and just started working my way out from there to go out into these communities. And Geneva was a success story, and people loved hearing about it. And so they would say, let’s just do what you did in Geneva. And I would say, hold on a second. Okay, that’ll take 10 years. 

You have to find your place. Again, back to that. You have to brainstorm about what would be great in blue sky planning is fun. It’s fun to think about.

But when you’re gonna get tactical, and you’re gonna create momentum, or in gender momentum, you have to be aligned with the market. And so when we’re working in rural communities, food jumps out as clear alignment with your market capacity. So you already have, in most cases where we’re working in rural communities, you already have an active farming population.

So you already have that first leg of the triangle, like, okay, we’ve got production. Now how can we move that production into market in some really cool ways that put us on the map?

We’re working in Steuben County on a comprehensive plan there, and they’ve got, they’re one of the largest productive agricultural counties in the state. We’re doing a comprehensive plan for them, and that’s what it’s all about. 

It’s all about how we know what’s happening at the farm, as you know, what’s happening in ag is these small family farms are conglomerate farms, which is fine. There’s no issue with big farming, but as a community, as a local government, how do you make sure that your stamp is on that? Because the bigger it gets, the more it’s centralized in Cleveland or someplace else.

Maureen: Yeah. That local community can kind of get left behind, right?

Matt: Yeah, so two things happen. One, we try to ingratiate ourselves with the bigger guys.

But two, we tell small-scale farmers, hey, there are other options. You don’t have to sell out. There is a future in farming and food production here if we can create a local market for it. I’ve seen it in Wayne County, I’ve seen it in Steuben County here locally. And now we’re, like you said, we’re taking it on the road to. to South Carolina and the Southeast, which has another just long history of farming.

Maureen: And so talk a little bit more about that, though. Like what does that mean? So when you tell, you know, a municipality that, like the farmer, can kind of maintain that local impact on the community, what does that look like? Does it mean kind of being more intentional about your farmer’s market? Does it mean, you know, what does it look like for agriculture and municipality?

Matt: Yeah, so it’s, I think it’s right. I think it’s back to what are your assets, what’s your capacity, right? That farmer’s market is the first thing. It’s funny, we were working up in Wayne County, and they, we met with, we brought all the farmers around the table, not all the farmers, but a bunch of the farmers in one of the communities that were experiencing growth pressure. And my biggest concern, one of my bigger concerns about Ag, is in the finger lakes, our real estate market is taking off. and people want to live here for lots of different reasons. And so farmers are in a position of now having some other options.

And so when I asked the farmers there, what’s your number one concern? Are you concerned about development pressure? Are you concerned about falling prices? What are you concerned about? 

And they said, our concern is how do we get this product that we’re growing in Wayne County to market in Wayne County for a lot of different reasons. 

One, because a shorter travel space between producing food and eating food is at a lower cost and all the cost impacts that go into that cost or the elements that go into that cost. 

And two, because then the community embraces farming as opposed to you moving a bunch of people in, and all of a sudden, the farm is the problem, right? The farm’s been here for 200 years. The house has just gotten here, right?

So when we talk to communities, we say, how do we get food to the table? How do we get food to the table in the community? A farmers market is one, for sure.

You know that we worked in Geneva on even a step down from the tech farm to what I call colloquially community kitchen space, but it’s really a kitchen incubation space, kitchen incubator, where you could take aspiring entrepreneurs, connect them with local growers and say, okay, we can produce this product here at a small scale. 

One of the more holistic things–I hate to, I’m just sitting in Geneva, so all these things from Geneva on my mind–but one of the more social things that I love about what’s happened in Geneva is this concept of cleaning, right? 

So, we were able to connect a local nonprofit to farmers who go out, do the harvest, and when they’re done with the harvest, they’ve got whatever’s left out there. and we send that nonprofit out, they collect it all. 

The city sponsored some cooler space so that this nonprofit can store it in their cooler and then get it to needy families. Anything from the farmers market, just selling it wholesale. By the way, if you are supporting your farmers market, make sure you’re connecting your farmers market to snap into those other programs to support economically disadvantaged folks. That keeps the food where it’s supposed to be. 

Two opportunities for small-scale production, grabbing your entrepreneur. And again, the person working at their kitchen table on a business plan is also probably making jam or jelly or salsa or whatever at the kitchen stove. Let’s get them into a space that’s licensed, and that’s got all the health department checks so that they can produce it and actually take it to market themselves. 

And then three, we’re very fortunate in the Finger Lakes to have Wegmans, a really nationwide company, but its corporate folks are housed here. 

So we make it a point to when we see a product that’s got legs to try and connect it to the Wegmans product folks, how do you get this on a shelf in, you know, in a, in a nationwide chain? That’s not going to be possible everywhere, but most regions have a regional grocery or a regional supplier, and a local economic developer can go a long way toward supporting entrepreneurship by connecting producers, manufacturers, and small-scale manufacturers to these larger-scale distributors.

And there are some interim steps in there too, but when I’m coaching municipalities, no matter where they are, it’s about finding new markets for your farmers and connecting farmers to entrepreneurs, connecting entrepreneurs to retailers.

Maureen: And what that really means is you’re, you’re supporting the creation of these ecosystems, right? And if you’re not creating them, you’re helping make sure that they’re strong in all aspects. 

And so we, a lot of the folks that we will talk to on this podcast, are consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands. And so, you know, for them too, they have a different perspective on this whole thing, but they’re an important part of the ecosystem too, right? 

They have to source their food from somewhere. They have to create it somewhere. They have to have an avenue to sell it. And so there are these kinds of hubs where that’s naturally occurring. 

And the Finger Lakes is one of them because of the many resources that you just mentioned. What about other kinds of ways that food bev and ag companies, in particular, can kind of lean into economic development? 

You’re one of the leading economic development kind of experts that I know personally, anyway. And I think the fact that you have such a finger on the pulse of food, beverage, and agriculture in particular, what are ways, and I’m thinking in particular grants might be one of the things that you could kind of speak to. What are some of the ways that food, bev, and ag brands or companies can kind of lean into economic development and do their part or sort of find their place in this ecosystem?

Matt: Absolutely, yeah. So one of the things I love about entrepreneurs is that they are networkers. 

You use the word ecosystem, which I love. We used to call it at the food venture center here in Geneva, we called it fruitful collisions, right? People bang into each other, and cool things happen. 

And so, first and foremost, as an entrepreneur, it’s your number one responsibility to network. So if you’re in a community, You’re starting a business. Don’t just limit yourself to the regulatory side of it. Okay, I gotta go down and get a business license, or I gotta go see the city clerk about this or that. Know who the players are in city hall, town hall, village hall, and know who’s responsible for economic development, right?

In a little place, and we work in a lot of little places, in a little place, it might be the county. And we’re trying to… talk local leaders out of that mentality and make sure that they’re taking ownership for their own economic development. But there’s nothing wrong with it.

The county is usually very well-staffed and resourced. So if you’re not fine, make sure the mayor or the manager in your community knows who you are, knows what you’re doing, and knows what your plans are. And then if they, if there isn’t a person whose job it is to kind of do economic development in town, go to the county, sit with the county economic developer. and talk to them about your plans. 

I promise you, if it’s a good economic developer, no project is too small because they practice this concept called economic gardening, which is, I see it, I see it out there, it’s budding, I can intervene here, maybe, maybe not, if I can’t, I’m coming back in a year and finding out what’s going on.

Maureen: And I think the other thing about that, too, is it might not be the municipality, right?

Matt: Right, absolutely.

Maureen: It might be like Cornell Center of Excellence is an excellent resource and, you know, has made a big impact on the region. They’re not a municipality, right? But they’re an economic development engine. So, you know, sometimes you might have to dig a little deeper than just the county, but to your point, find who is contributing to economic development in your region.


You bet.

Absolutely. That’s a great point. And in a lot of cases, in the best case, my free market friends out there, in the best cases, it’s not going to be government. There are going to be nonprofit, academic, and other partners. 

And not all of us have Cornell University’s, you know, prime research station or backyard, but most people have a community college, and community colleges are always tied back to the state system. And most people have some kind of cooperative extension, right? 

And no matter what state you’re in, there’s a cooperative extension, an ag extension that works in your community, go to that person and find their network. 

So the network that’s number one, um, that’s going to lead you to a bunch of different things, but most certainly, um, uh, state and state and federal grant dollars, there is someone in your community, or there should be, even if you have to go all the way to the county level or two, there’s this machinery out there called Regional Planning Council or Council of Governments depending on where you are it’s got a different name but what it is like a multi-county group of folks who hire a single planning entity to kind of look at the region as a whole.

Those folks are typically very involved in agricultural planning and economic development. And so, you know, find out who that is in your community because those folks are the people who the federal economic development agencies look to determine where the federal economic development grants are going to go. 

Federal agencies don’t want to work all the way down in the village of such and such. They want to go to the Finger Lakes region, right?

Maureen: Yeah, they’ve got to, like, kind of create these like legs of the table.

You just mentioned that these regional planning councils are very involved in agriculture. Why is that?

Matt: And I did what I usually do, which is to speak in broad generalities. I doubt that the 10-county region surrounding New York City, for example, has a huge ag planning complement, although they’ve got some. I know there are a lot of Long Island wineries out there.

Maureen: Yep, that’s right.

Matt: But here, and in the rural areas where we work, agriculture is a big piece of the economy. And it’s the piece of the economy that’s most at risk virtually everywhere for lots of different reasons, right? 

Whether they’re environmental risks just generally, whether they’re development risks because the place is becoming so popular, in the Finger Lakes in New York state, generally, we’re, I don’t want to say, battling, but we’re banging up against we’re pitting ag and renewable energy against one another with solar farms and wind towers. 

And so, the regional councils have a responsibility and a reason to stay involved in ag planning to make sure that producers and growers know what the resources are. And so that’s mostly their role, connecting these folks to resources. Farm Bureau, a fantastic organization, I encourage everybody to be plugged into that.

Maureen: Totally agree.

Matt: Even if you’re not a grower, if you’re a manufacturer or a small-scale manufacturer entrepreneur, go talk to the Farm Bureau. Find out which farmers you should be talking to about what.

Maureen: Yeah, and vice versa, right? That gets on their radar so that they know when there’s a farmer that, you know, has some that you might be able to solve a farmer’s problem, that there’s a vice versa happening there, as well.

Matt: Absolutely. And I know in that vein, I mean, there are a million little stories, but that Stony Brook story is that exact story, right? The farmer had a problem. The farmer had a problem of: what am I going to do with all these seeds? He’s landfilling all these seeds. And an entrepreneur happened to be standing at the Ag Extension and heard him talking about it and said, I’ll take the seeds. And he turned them into this amazing oil, squash seed oil.

And so, yes, to your point. vice versa. That’s why it’s a network. It’s fully connected.


Right, right, exactly. Yeah. What does your spidey sense tell you about what’s coming next in economic development in communities? And that might mean, how have behaviors changed since COVID that people are kind of engaging in a little different way. But, you know, with your finger on the pulse, what’s coming next?

Matt: Yeah, so water, right? Water is a critical conversation. As the world dries, warms up, and dries, municipalities are having to get a lot more engaged in even getting farmers water. Farmers are seeing those ponds dry up earlier in the season.

And so, for the first time in my career, I’m talking to farmers about how to extend water infrastructure to their farms to refill those ponds all summer. 

So not just talking about ag, but dairy farming, not just talking about irrigation, but like dairy farming and keeping the cows watered and that kind of thing. So water and infrastructure are going to play a much bigger role in ag economic development moving forward. 

I, you know, the piece about COVID, what we found, and maybe, maybe the work we’ve been doing, you and I have been doing in this part of our career was at the front end of things, but COVID made everything, I lived in a hyper-local world.

I’ve thrived on eating food that was grown within 20 miles of my house, you know, now that’s everywhere, right? And I think it’s only getting smaller. I think people are only going to look, they want to know the story of their food, want to know where it comes from. They want to know that it’s going to get to them no matter what happens in the world. 

Food security is so much more important. And by food security, I just mean the ability to get an ear of corn from a farm to my table.

Maureen: Yep, exactly.

Matt: That has to happen locally. And so that’s a big deal. And food safety generally.

Cornell has an amazing program or initiative called the Institute of Food Safety. And what they’re doing is helping growers and produce small-scale producers understand federal regulation and then coaching the federal government on how to modify regulation to be more implementable without losing the security part of it, the safety part of it. Because if you’re a small-scale farmer producer and you get that thousand-page code of federal regulations, you’re lost right out of the gate, and a lot of it won’t even apply to you.

Food safety is not going away. It’s only going to get stronger and more strict and more bureaucratic.

And so, for a small-scale producer, I would say find the person in your community whose responsibility is to interpret that. This Cornell Institute of Food Safety is a nationwide resource, though. So if you’re in, you know, if you’re in Batwing, Idaho, working on a food safety question, call Cornell. They’re empowered and funded to help you.

Maureen: Yeah, and Cornell has come up in a lot of these conversations that I’ve had for the podcast. And I want to make sure that everybody’s clear that even though a lot of the folks that I’ve talked to thus far happen to be based in the Finger Lakes and are talking a lot about Cornell, the point that you just made is a good one, that they are a nationwide resource that is available for, you know, all sorts of things related to the development of a CPG or the efficiency of your farm or various things, in that aspect. 

What about agritourism? I’ve heard a lot of busts, hustle, and bustle about that. A lot of conversation. Everyone’s coming to me and asking about agritourism. What are you hearing on that topic?

Matt: I’m so glad you said that.

Yeah, I mean, five years ago, again, I think we have the benefit of kind of living in the right part of the world for this. But five years ago, that was wineries and breweries, right?

And, and maybe an occasional you pick, you know, strawberry patch or something like that. It’s getting more. It’s getting more robust. I’ll say it that way. Every piece of the food production chain has an ag tourism opportunity associated with it.

So there’s no question in my mind that, again, kind of back to that maybe COVID spawned curiosity about where my food comes from and how it happens.

People wanna see the processes, they wanna understand the processes.

But moreover, it’s just a beautiful way to spend a day, and it’s something that, if you’re in a rural region, it’s one of your core assets for attraction and retention. 

And so I still see obviously wine and beer and distilleries are popping up. I still see that as a huge agritourism. 

But here locally again, I look at the fall with the pick and patch in that, which grows quadruply every year, 400% every year, it just gets bigger and bigger. And that’s about folks wanting to be connected to their food, right?

And so I only see that continuing to grow, and I only see people continuing to get more and more creative with it and really opening their doors. Because again, back to that Wayne County conversation, the farmers are under threat from residences.

And residents move into a real pastoral, beautiful place. And on that first spring day, they open their windows, and they’re like, what is that? You know, what’s that smell? What’s that noise at daybreak? Yeah, that’s a tractor That’s what that is, and it’s getting your food out of there So, the more farmers can connect to people, and so agritourism is a great place for farmers and producers, for that matter, to connect to people. And so anyway, I think it’s on the rise.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. I totally agree too. I want to go back to the grants conversation for just one more minute because I think that for many of the folks in these industries, food bev and ag, right? That there is a lot of opportunity on the grant side. And so you mentioned kind of getting to know your network and connecting to the people, talk about what you’re doing. And that is so that, you know, hopefully, the people that you’re connecting with can kind of help. funnel resources toward you, right? 

And you can kind of make sure that you’re staying on top of what is available. Are there any kinds of grants that come to mind that are generally utilized by farmers that would be kind of good, quick, easy wins for our audience to sort of start looking into?

Matt: Yeah, yeah, two big ones, two big funding agencies out there that are really incredibly diverse. I’ll start very high level since, you know, hopefully, people even outside of New York will pick up on this. But USDA adds new programs all the time. And so most, I think, every region in the country has a USDA outpost and office in your region. So. If you’re a Google person, go right to Google, Google USDA grants, and you’ll get the phone book. And read it, cover to cover.

You’ll be surprised at what’s in there. And then, if you’re not a Google person, go out, find where your USDA regional office is and go out and sit with those folks and talk to them about your needs and talk to them, you know, and ask them about their funding cycles.

It’s everything from manufacturing equipment, farming equipment, and land preservation stuff. I mean, there’s a lot there, right?

So that’s a federal one that I love.

Maureen: One from the USDA that a lot of our clients use is more of a research and development one, the value-added processors grant. A lot of our clients love that one. How can I take what I’m already doing on the farm and help it do more value-added kind-of things? So that’s one too that would be, I would say, high on the list for folks to specifically seek out.

Matt: Yeah, and I think anywhere you plug into Ag, I mean, and again, they stretch it even, I mean, farther than that. And so from the, from very, from very clear, basic, direct growing support all the way down to processing and value add, I think that’s a great point. One that’s for people, maybe closer to communities or to cities and towns, is built to serve underserved communities, right? 

Maureen: Mmm, yeah, that’s a good one.

Matt: So impoverished, economically challenged communities. It has a full economic development component to it. 

If your region has an ag economic development priority, then that’s gonna bubble up as a high score because your region typically gets to weigh in. 

Those guys we talked about at the cog or the RPC, they get to weigh in on your grant application. And when they see an Ag tie, or they see a strategic tie that would hopefully would be Ag, then you get a few bonus points there. But again, that’s sometimes what I call easy money to spend on equipment in a lot of cases, even some salaries for hiring employees, those kinds of things.

And again, it’s built to serve rural places with economic challenges. And so I would keep an eye on that. Inside the cities in New York state, they’ve created this sublet or sub piece of the subgrant of the CDBG, which is called Micro-Enterprise Assistance.

This would be for those who may be in production or retail entrepreneurs. You get microgrants. So a micro-enterprise is an employer with five or fewer employees, and communities get a grant for $250,000 and then break it up and give it in 25 or $50,000 chunks to entrepreneurs in the community to either get started or for a young company to expand. 

In New York State, a couple of things that I would bang on is Empire State Development has a strong Ag focus. And so pay attention to that. They’ve got most of these grants, or a lot of these grant programs, look to grant to a municipality who might then sub-grant to you or who might invest in infrastructure that supports you ultimately. Empire State Development grants directly to the producer.

And so they don’t like to give money to municipalities, they like to give it directly to the producer. I would say they are strategic, right? So this is not, I’ve got an idea. This is, I’ve got proof of concept, and I’m moving into scale, right?

You’re most likely to get ESD’s attention with that and Piracy Development’s attention with that. But the same thing, court your county economic developer first and then let them walk you into ESD, Empire State Development, and Community Development Block grants in New York State that we just talked about as well. And then we’re paying a lot of attention to farmland preservation dollars, which are conservation easements. As we said, these small family farms are, they got, in New York state, they’re getting two knocks a day at the door from solar producers or solar installers. Hey, we’ll pay a 20-year ground lease, and the farmer’s doing the math. 

Maureen: Sometimes that does make sense for them, you know, that, hey, I’m going to make way more money this way rather than farming this land. 

But that was a big discussion at the New York State Farm Bureau annual meeting last December was this huge discussion over the concern for the entire United States of quality, high-quality farmland going to solar because, you know, even How do you get ahead of that? So that’s a really smart angle, too, of farmland preservation dollars and what might be available there.

Matt: You bet. Yeah, the federal government and the state government both have these priorities of renewable energy, and it bangs right up against agricultural priorities in most cases. So the state of New York, locally here, the town of Canandaigua, has, I think, had five rounds of these preservation grants. And basically, what it does is makes it as worth your while to farm as to accept the solar panel, right?

Maureen: Yeah, that’s great.

Matt: So that at least you’re starting from a level playing field.

Maureen: Right, right. Yep. Well, this was great. I really appreciate all of your resources. 

I think the thing I’m hearing loud and clear that is of value to our food-, bev-, and ag folks that are listening is that economic is an excellent place to start. Making sure that you’re having those conversations with your local economic development organization, no matter what stage you’re in. 

If you’re in that kind of industry, there’s likely some sort of support or awareness or kind of connection that can happen with your local economic development organizations to help you grow.