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US (NY): Rondout Valley Growers’ Association expands Farm-to-School programs

At its annual Harvest Hoedown last month, the first since before the COVID pandemic, the Rondout Valley Growers’ Association (RVGA) celebrated its 20th year as an established organization. “It was 45 degrees and raining, but about 150 people turned out,” says Matthew Igoe, who now serves as RVGA’s executive director after about five years as a board member.

What was to become RVGA actually took form in 2001 as a glimmer in the eye of Bruce Davenport and Fabia Wargin – “a Marbletown-based taskforce of two,” in Davenport’s words. “Our mission was to help to keep farmland in production by helping to keep it profitable.”

Igoe takes up the historical thread: “It started out as a marketing organization. A town supervisor once told me, ‘Bruce Davenport came in and asked for a thousand dollars from each town, saying that if you give us this now, you’ll never hear from us again.’”

In the not-for-profit world, that sort of initial investment is called seed money and never was there a more appropriate use of the term. RVGA’s founding attracted the attention of the Open Space Institute, American Farmland Trust, Scenic Hudson, and various foundations that were interested in the issue of farmland preservation. As RVGA began reaching out to a broader community with the intent of connecting farmers with consumers, partnerships quickly developed with such entities as Cornell Cooperative Extension, several school districts, Family, and a variety of food pantries. In 2013, ten years after RVGA’s founding, another puzzle piece fell into place, as Peter Buffett’s NoVo Foundation bought the former Gill Farms in Hurley and made it the headquarters for the Farm Hub, a frequent collaborator with RVGA.


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