ALBANY, N.Y. — Environmental lobbyist-turned-farmer Bernard Melewski is already enjoying the fruits of his labor as owner of Meadowdale Winery, in rural Albany County.
The business, launched two years ago, won a gold medal for its Ice Cider at this year’s New York International Wine Competition, and its Apple Wine won a silver medal at the 2018 New York Wine Classic.
Melewski showcased these and other products at the state-sponsored Food and Farms Business Expo, an event designed to connect producers with buyers, at The Desmond Hotel in Albany on Oct. 30.
“It’s very important for small operations like us to have an opportunity to meet buyers, people who carry our products,” he said. “That’s true not only for the wineries here, but all the other farmers as well. Just this morning we arranged to have Congressman Paul Tonko visit our farm and we got an application for some marketing assistance as well. So far, so good.”
Melewski said he enjoys his newfound career much more than his previous one.
“First of all you’re outside and secondly, you know whether you’ve been successful almost immediately,” he said. “It’s much less frustrating than lobbying.”
The expo was organized by the Capital Region and Adirondack Regional chambers of commerce, and Warren and Albany counties’ Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Taste NY program.
More than 70 vendors attended the Albany event offering all kinds of goods ranging from syrup, honey and jams, to chocolate-covered fruit, lavender and pasture-raised eggs.
Abba’s Acres, of Richmondville, displayed goat’s milk fudge, chicken stock, buttermilk pancake mix, peanut brittle, lye soap, maple syrup and hickory syrup, which is made from the trees’ bark.
“It’s not as sweet as maple syrup. We make it on the thin side, otherwise the sugar caramelizes,” owner Matthew Betsinger said. “I’m fortunate. My kids are very entrepreneurial-minded. They make a lot of the things here.”
Trumbull Farms owner Gig Barton, of Columbia County, makes specialty lavender and hydrangea wreaths and other products such as culinary lavender.
State agriculture department Deputy Commissioner Kevin King said events and initiatives such as the recent expos have spurred considerable growth in the food and tourism industries, which are sometimes marketed together with things such as wine and craft beverage trails.
“Today we have over 70 locations showcasing New York food and beverage products,” he said.
Assemblywoman Pat Fahey, whose 109th District includes urban, suburban and rural areas, said, “Good food is good health and good business.”
The Troy Farmer’s Market has helped revitalize that city’s downtown, and a farmers market in Bethlehem has spawned several successful small businesses, she said.
“Please keep doing what you’re doing,” she told vendors.
Vendors were on hand from the Mid-Hudson Valley north to the Southern Adirondacks, and west to east from the Mohawk Valley to Washington and Rensselaer counties, which border western New England.
Jan King, co-owner of King Brothers Dairy, in Saratoga County, said, “As a local food producer we’re always looking for avenues to help people learn about our products. An event such as this, where there’s local vendors and local chefs, people interested in buying direct from the farm — these events are priceless. A lot of people don’t find you unless you’re someplace like this. It’s just a good avenue to display your product, let people taste it and see what they can do with it.”
Vern Duesler’s firm, Mud Road Sugar House, was named Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Business of the Year in 2017.
“An event like this gets your name out there,” Duesler said. “It’s nice to sample different products and meet other producers in the food business. One of our new products is bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. It’s been flying off the shelves. Since January, we’ve managed to bottle up 50 gallons of it.”
Recent farm-to-school initiatives have given upstate New York’s agriculture-related businesses a considerable boost, too.
“We came here to meet the farmers and dairies and see what our school can possibly bring in to feed kids with,” said Darryl Whited, Watervliet Central Schools food service director. “This is a good opportunity to meet local farmers and see what kind of ties we can make with them in order to purchase their items and let kids try new and different things in the future.
“Most of our lettuce comes from local sources and all year round we get apples from local orchards,” he said. “We don’t buy local meat or dairy, but we’re going to take a look and see if there’s anything we can do with those items. When we place orders, we look to see if it’s New York-grown. We’ll help out the community before we go outside.”
Kirsten Demento, of Saratoga Springs, is Watervliet Central Schools’ director of educational programs.
“We’re hoping to help agriculture,” she said. “We’re hoping that they help us. I’m looking for products that may fit special needs. For example, we just saw some lactose-free cheese. We have more and more students with that kind of need. We’re also looking to see what kind of local yogurts might be here. We’re looking for items that meet special dietary needs.”