by Pat Malin
MARCY, NY — Whether New Yorkers have manufactured cheese, guns and ammunition, air conditioners, automobiles and quality wines or put up skyscrapers during the last century, their talents and inventiveness helped fashion New York’s reputation as “The Empire State.”
That image has faded over the last few decades as manufacturing jobs slowly diminished, manufacturers faced increased competition from cheap imports or production facilities moved overseas in search of reduced labor costs.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-22), along with their colleagues in Congress, are considering ways to revitalize New York State industry, starting with the Made in America Manufacturing Communities Act.
They recently visited Candella’s Farm and Greenhouses in Marcy to discuss ways to bolster local manufacturing, starting at its obvious source: agriculture.
Gillibrand’s and Hanna’s offices said the Made in America Act would increase the competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing industry by designating local regions as manufacturing communities. Those communities will be given preference in receiving federal funding and technical assistance to create good-paying manufacturing jobs.
Candella’s is similar to many family farms, but warranted recognition from Hanna and Gillibrand for its 100th continuous years in business, almost entirely at its present. Four generations of the Candella family have worked the fields here and produced untold quantities of fresh vegetables. But the family knows it’s more challenging to run a small business today compared to when Frank Candella arrived in New York from Italy in the early 20th century. He started with just a corner farm stand in 1916.
Michael Candella Sr., the current patriarch, was born in the 1930s and still oversees the farm with his wife, Florence. He explained that his parents, Frank and Rose, purchased the adjoining property in 1936 and he moved the farm to its present spot in 1980. Today the farm encompasses close to 300 acres in the rich lowland bordering the historic Erie Canal.
“We own 127 acres and rent 200,” his son, Michael Candella Jr. noted. “We’ve grown. The kids have grown it,” referring to his generation, which includes his sister Shawna (Papale), younger brothers Brendon and Rick Candella, plus their children. “We grow flowers and vegetables: pick your own strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, plus tomatoes, corn and peppers — those are our biggest sellers.”
The federal funds from the Made In America Manufacturing Communities Act will be funneled through individual state and county agencies. Not much new manufacturing is related to agriculture, but since it spurs new construction, housing and jobs, it will indirectly mean more customers for farmers.
In order to earn the Manufacturing Communities designation, communities have to demonstrate the significance of manufacturing in their region and develop six strategies to support manufacturing growth, according to a press release from Gillibrand’s office. Those strategies include workforce training and retraining; advanced research; infrastructure and site development; supply chain support; promotion of exports and foreign investment, the development of business incubators and equipment or facility upgrades.
That last item applies directly to Candella’s Farm. Brendon said, “With the money, we could build more infrastructure on the farm and buy equipment to clean and pack goods to be shipped out to food processors who take our products. We used to ship to New York City as part of a co-op. The funding wasn’t there before.” It’s possible they could hire additional staff. Candella’s currently has 20 part-time and fulltime employees.
Candella’s has seen encroaching urban or commercial development, especially in the last 50 years and expects significant growth from a nearby nanotechnology park and SUNY Polytechnic Institute. “I’ve seen a lot of development, water and sewer (hookups), a lot of growth,” Candella Jr. added. “Do I feel we’re squeezed? No. But there are fewer farms around now.”
Papale returns to the family farm often and helps out frequently on weekends. As she introduced the politicians at the press conference, Papale reiterated the reason for their visit, “I want my children and Richard’s (Hanna) children to have the opportunity to grow up on a farm.” Papale is not familiar with the Act and doesn’t know yet how the legislations will help farmers. “What we’ve seen is that manufacturing as an industry has been challenged and Senator Gillibrand wants to do something to help them out,” she said. “We do have a good agricultural base in New York State, but we need to do something to preserve it.”
Gillibrand gave some details on the program by citing the incredible success of Chobani yogurt. “Chobani takes dairy milk and manufactures yogurt. That makes them eligible for funds for processing. They’re focused on value-added products,” she said.
Papale told Gillibrand that consumers are demanding access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which is a good sign. On the other hand, farmers face much competition from supermarkets. Papale, who has two teenaged daughters, said she identifies with working mothers who are short on time and run to the store trying to find something for dinner. But they end up shortchanging their families and inadvertently hurting farmers when they buy produce that is not always locally grown.
“I know it’s a challenge to get to the farm stand, and even some of our produce is distributed to the supermarkets, but it’s not as fresh as at the farm where we pick it every day,” she said.