By Rick Hiduk
Board members of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR) voted unanimously on Wednesday to take the Northern Tier Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local program under their wing.
The primary goal of those who coordinate similar programs across the state is to promote local agriculture, farm stands, wineries and breweries and the grocery outlets and restaurants that support them. The initiative was given a local identity in 2007 when it the Northern Tier chapter was formed by the Northern Tier Cultural Alliance (NTCA) with financial assistance from EMHR.
While the local chapter has turned a slight profit in the past two years, many felt that it was poised for growth despite not achieving its full potential.
“One of the problems is that our other three counties did not have much representation,” said Jean Ruhf, an at large member of the EMHR board and Executive Director of the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau.
The Buy Fresh Buy Local network is coordinated statewide by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture on behalf of its partner, FoodRoutes Network, LLC.
The Northern Tier chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local previously catered to six counties: Bradford, Potter, Susquehanna, Sullivan, Tioga and Wyoming. Most of the activities of the existing group so far have centered on Bradford County, with Tioga County to the west also considered a viable participant. Ruhf suggested that Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming Counties were not maximizing the potential of the program, despite the prevalence of agricultural activity throughout the region.
Sullivan County EMHR representative Melanie Norton agreed and expressed her hopes that oversight of the program by EMHR would help the initiative “reach all four counties equally.”
“It’s got nowhere to go but up,” she remarked.
Board members agreed that Tioga County ought to remain part of the Northern Tier chapter although not technically a part of the four-county Endless Mountains region. Potter County, however, will be transferred to another entity, according to EMHR Executive Director Phil Swank.
“We’re confident that the prgram will align itself very well with our agency’s mission and strategic vision for the region, and are prepared to run this program,” stated Swank, who related that there would be more of an investment of time than money involved in the sponsorship. “I see a lot of promise for this program to grow…and help out the agricultural heritage of the region.”
Swank cited Ruhf, Norton and EMHR board member Mike Lovegreen, as well as NTCA member Ruth Tonachel, as instrumental in arranging for EMHR to assume responsibility of the program. Each will serve on a steering committee for the program that will also include NTCA members Dick Heyler and Elaine Poost, who also represents the Bradford County Regional Arts Council.
In addition to approximately $7,500 in annual revenue from current memberships, grants and in-kind donations, partial funding for the reorganized program will come from room tax grant support of the Endless Mountains and Tioga County Visitors Bureaus. EMHR will maintain continued, separate memberships for the Buy Less Buy Local campaign and its own organizational base.
Long-term goals for Buy Local Buy Fresh include sustaining and building the membership base, providing technical assistance to farmers markets, and furthering development of agricultural product markets, food-to-table initiatives and participation in county-based agriculture-economic development efforts. Short-term goals include the publication of a new farmers markets guide by Spring 2014 and local food guides by 2015.
Swank will serve as the new contact for the Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign and can be reached at 570-265-1528 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.