Schoharie County

Food hub eyed for former Cobleskill mill

Guilford Mills, the START-UP NY site promising to bring hundreds of jobs to the Cobleskill area, is

Guilford Mills, the START-UP NY site promising to bring hundreds of jobs to the Cobleskill area, is being eyed for yet another potential use: hosting a food hub to connect Mohawk Valley farmers with downstate markets.

The 468,000-square-foot former textile factory is in the process of being renovated by owner Green Recycling Solutions International, and is expected to host at least four start-up and expanding companies under the state’s START-UP NY incubator program.

Recently, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie and Otsego Counties received a $50,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corp. to explore the idea of creating a food hub in the facility.

According to Don Smyers, executive director of the extension, the facility would help process and distribute raw produce from local growers.

“There has been a great deal of interest coming from New York state to find a way to invigorate the upstate economy,” Smyers said. “And I think one of the most obvious ways to look at invigorating the upstate economy is to pay some attention to agriculture. There are producers in upstate New York and maybe there are ways we can help facilitate their access to markets.”

Those markets do not have to be downstate or New York City, he noted, but that is where much of the demand is. Currently, he said many upstate growers find themselves on the outside of a metaphorical store window: They’re geographically close to those markets, but still lack access.

That’s partly because products coming from independent farms and other producers may do well in local stores and farmers’ markets, he said, but the inconsistency and irregularities keep them out of larger markets and cap their potential.

“Buyers in the downstate market, just like in any other business, they’re looking for reliability, they’re looking for uniformity, they’re looking for quality, they’re looking for all the attributes that they need,” he said. “So sometimes small businesses have trouble accessing the markets because they just don’t quite fit in.”

The food hub, if it comes to fruition, would help to deliver just that.

The feasibility study has just gotten started with an assessment of the Mohawk Valley’s current and future production capacity, said Smyers. That will be followed by an evaluation of the suitability of Guilford Mills as a location.

Smyers met with representatives of Green Recycling Solutions International on Wednesday to tour the “mammoth building” and get an idea of the space there. GRSI could not be reached Thursday for comment.

“Guilford Mills is roughly 10 acres under one roof, and we would be looking at a very small piece of that, anywhere from say 20,000 to 100,000 square feet,” Smyers said. “We know there’s a possibility that that could be made available to us. Whether the Guilford Mills facility really is ultimately suitable for this is hard to know, and that’s why we’re taking a look at it.”

If the food hub does happen at Guilford Mills, it would likely be eligible for the same 10-year tax break available to the other START-UP NY companies. Smyers said it could be run by an organization, possibly a nonprofit, formed specifically for that reason, or it may be picked up by a private corporation with similar experience elsewhere.

The final part of the study will involve developing a protocol that Empire State Development can use to determine the feasibility of food hubs in other areas of the state.

Smyers said he expects to have results from the study in November. They will begin developing a business plan if those results are positive.

“These are the kinds of things that sometimes become romanticized,” he said. “But it isn’t going to be easy. If this is going to happen, this will take a great deal of hard work, but I think there can be substantial rewards if it can be delivered.”

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