The Taste You Missed

Recorded during Vitality in the Valley 2024 in Herkimer, NY, host Steve Melito unlocks the secrets to advancing New York State’s food and agriculture sector with invaluable insights from Catharine Young, the executive director of the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell Agritech. Discover how Catharine and her team are pioneering the commercialization of cutting-edge research and technology, empowering entrepreneurs and established businesses alike through their innovative “push, pull, grow” strategy. The conversation delves into the significant resources available, such as the Cornell Food Venture Center and the Food Innovation Lab, which have been critical in ensuring food safety and product development, especially during the tumultuous times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next, journey with us to Old Homestead Farm in Richfield Springs, where Tina Douglas shares her inspiring transition from dairy farming to raising beef. Learn about the family’s farm store, their commitment to transparency, and their plans for agritourism, and educational initiatives. Tina’s passionate storytelling reveals a deeper connection between consumers and the origins of their food. Join us for an engaging episode that promises to enrich your understanding of local food systems and the dedication behind them.


Steve Melito: Welcome to this special edition of New York State Manufacturing Now. I’m your host, Steve Melito, and we are here with Catherine Young, who is the executive director of the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell Agritech did.

Catharine Young: I get all that right. You did, and it’s a mouthful, so very good.

Steve Melito: Thank you. We’re here at Vitality in the Valley in Herkimer, new York, 2024. And thank you for being here. Catharine, you are going to be on our panel discussion tomorrow. We’re gonna be talking about the services that your organization provides. So, for those who can’t be here, can you tell us what the Center of Excellence does?

Catharine Young: Well, sure, and it’s an amazing opportunity that I took in 2019 and we’ve been able to scale the Center of Excellence up. So, as you know, Steve, there are now, I think, 15 centers of Excellence across New York State they just added one and they were started around 2005. And the reason that the legislature and the governor at the time started the Centers of Excellence was to help with commercialization of all the research, innovation, technology that’s happening on college campuses and universities all across New York. And, as you know, we have such tremendous colleges and universities, and so other states were getting their commercialization going better than New York at the time, and so the Centers of Excellence are focused on getting that out into the marketplace, growing the New York State economy, getting that innovation out there. And so when you think of Cornell University, you think of a lot of great things, but you do think of global excellence in the food and agriculture space. So I grew up in a dairy and grains farm in Livingston County and my dad was a Cornell graduate, and you know so this is very special from that aspect, but Cornell has been such a tremendous asset and resource for the agriculture industry in New York State for a very long time For sure. So you know, really since the mid-1800s. So we’re focused on helping scale up entrepreneurs, startups, existing food, beverage and agriculture technology companies in New York State. So we provide business mentoring, we make connections. Cornell Research, innovation, technology and it’s amazing at Cornell, I mean some of the things that are happening. For example, I work with a researcher who used to work for NASA and she can do spectral imagery from satellites in outer space to detect plant diseases in fields on the Earth.

Steve Melito: Wow.

Catharine Young: So it’s just like this amazing technology that’s been developed. So we’re working with a lot of startups. We help them grow and our motto is push, pull, grow. So when I tell a company we’re gonna push you, we’re gonna pull you, we’re gonna grow, you may sound like you know maybe the torture rack, and what we mean by that is that we’re pushing entrepreneurs and startups to scale up. We’re pulling in companies from around the world. So we work with companies from Israel and the United Kingdom and Spain and France and so on to have them establish a place in presence in New York State from an economic sense. And then we’re growing the existing food economy and it’s so important to the well-being of the state because, as you know, agriculture food, beverage businesses provide more than 1.2 million jobs in the state is really responsible for all kinds of economic advancement and the infrastructure here, and so we’re huge in all kinds of different commodities and food items.

Steve Melito: Good, I think, aside from the fact that we all need to eat, one of the things I saw about food during COVID was people at home wanting to start their own business.

Catharine Young: Oh, we saw it too.

Steve Melito: You saw it too? Was it hard during COVID? We talked about this a little bit before. It must not have been easy to get these folks the services that they needed.

Catharine Young: Right, because Cornell was actually shut down, like everywhere else, for a while, but we were able to get the Cornell Food Venture Center open, so we have a lot of assets. The Cornell Food Venture Center provides safety validation and testing of food products. So if you’re a food startup, you need to make sure that you’re in regulatory compliance, that you’re producing something that’s safe to eat because if you’re not. You could actually make people very sick or kill people, and so the food safety aspect is extremely, extremely important, and but they were able to open up and start to do testing of food products. Again. We were on Zoom you were on Zoom everybody was on Zoom all the time doing video calls, and so we were able to still talk to people, and a lot of people were out of work very sadly. And so they were saying to me, I’m sure they were saying to you I always had a dream to have my own food business, and now I’m not working and so now’s the time to get started. And we’ve helped launch a lot of businesses during COVID.

Steve Melito: It’s a great thing. I mean, it was a terrible experience for us all, aside from the fact that lots of people lost their lives or were ill upended people economically. But I think long term we may look at this and say there were some things that came out of this that may not have otherwise exactly so and that’s what we do.

Catharine Young: You know we help people with their business plans. We help them with their pitch decks, meaning if they’re trying to get investors or some sort of funding, you know they have to be able to tell their story in an effective way. But we also have all kinds of resources, as I said at Cornell. So we have a food innovation lab we opened for product development. So a lot of times you know this people have an idea or a concept, or maybe grandma’s recipe for sauce or whatever it may be, and they’ve got to perfect it so they can come to Geneva, where I work for now and work in our food innovation lab, which half of the lab is all cooking and baking equipment, so it’s almost like a commissary kitchen great. The other half is focused on scientific equipment so you can measure pH, water activity, bricks, things like that. And we have a pilot plant that when food entrepreneurs walk in, it’s like they’ve gone to Disneyland, because we’ve got every kind of food processing and manufacturing equipment that you can dream of and we have been able to acquire. So we have more of that type of equipment than any other university in the entire country.

Steve Melito: In the entire country. Let’s make sure people understand that.

Catharine Young: Exactly, and so people can come try out different techniques. A lot of the equipment is on wheels, so you might wanna do this step and then that step, but maybe that didn’t work so well, so then maybe you wanna switch it around, sure, so it’s just a phenomenal place and such a real resource for the entire ag and food industry that is fantastic.

Steve Melito: I don’t want to keep you here too long because we’re having a good time here at Vitality in the Valley and I wish that you were here, but I want to ask you about how your center is growing. We talked a little bit about a part of New York State that’s near and dear to my heart, which is Washington County, which is north of Albany, and it sounds like you are having some growth. We are Perhaps in that area.

Catharine Young: Exactly. We’re in the process of establishing a satellite office that will have a business development specialist from the Center of Excellence but, also a representative from the Cornell Food Venture Center so they can be on the ground working directly with food companies, helping them with safety issues, providing training, being a liaison with the assets that we have in Ithaca and Geneva, and we’re very excited about it. We’re a statewide organization and we do have clients from New York City and Long Island all the way out to Buffalo and Chautauqua County and everywhere in between, but this is a way to have a real presence in the eastern part of the state, just so that we can help all the companies that are out there.

Steve Melito: That’s amazing, because I can imagine that if you have a farm in Hoosick Falls or Cambridge or Greenwich… Greenwich, excuse me for getting that one wrong you guys are going to kill me, but you’re probably thinking western New York’s too far away, but you’re not going to have to go that far away to get the services that you need.

Catharine Young: Exactly, and so we’re online. We’re the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture, and if you go to our website, you just have to, you know, do a search on it and you can go to our website. You can contact us through there, and we’d love to hear from entrepreneurs and startups and food companies, because we do a lot of training and other things too, so we just want to make sure that we’re helping the industry grow in.

Steve Melito: New York State. Okay, good. So if you’re a startup or an entrepreneur, that is your invitation from Cathy Young, herself from the Center of Excellence Cornell Agritech, Food and Agriculture. Cathy, thank you for being with us.

Catharine Young: Thank you, Steve, it’s great, and thank you to your audience.

Steve Melito: Welcome back to New York State Manufacturing Now. This is Steve Melito. We’re at vitality in the valley at Herkimer College in Herkimer, new York, and we are here with Tina Douglas from Old Homestead Farm. How are you? Very good? So you’re in Richfield Springs? Yes, how far away from that are you from Herkimer?

Catharine Young: From Herkimer?

Steve Melito: Try to orient people to where we are tonight.

Tina Douglas: Sure, if you were to take Route 28 south, it’s about 15 minutes and we are on Route 20, one mile west of Route 28. And we’ve been there about eight years. Prior to that, we had a dairy farm, and so now we’re raising beef along with my two sons. They have more animals at their farm the other side of Richfield Springs, and then I have an additional daughter who’s an agriculture education teacher as well.

Steve Melito: Excellent. So Tina is here tonight at our pre-event reception and she is sharing some delicious food. Why don’t you tell us about what you brought tonight so that folks can know what they’ve missed by not being here?

Tina Douglas: Certainly. I brought two different types of roast. One was a sirloin tip and the second was an eye of round, both prepared two different ways, and that’s just a simple sampling of what we have available in our farm store.

Steve Melito: Okay, good, so can people come to your farm store.

Tina Douglas: Absolutely. The farm store is open daily nine to six. It is a self-serve. Four around are glad to help. Cash, check, Venmo are the normal payments and if I’m there I can do a credit card as well. But in the farm store, besides our full selection of beef in the freezer, we offer pork and chicken, barbecue sauces, eggs, milk the eggs are raised by my daughter-in-law, sometimes the chicken is, and sometimes our pork is raised by our family and then, along with the other sauces and seasonings and rubs and candy and different things that you might find in a typical small farm store.

Steve Melito: Excellent. So I haven’t told you this yet, but I’m a farmer, at least a wannabe farmer. I’ve got chickens and bees and I raise shiitake mushrooms. Were you always a farmer? Did you learn this? Did your family pick this up, or was it handed down through lots of different generations?

Tina Douglas: A combination of both. So, yes, the families are both farm families. Both sets of my grandparents were farmers and great grandparents. But we did not join my family farm. My husband and I started our own and that’s how we got the name. Old Homestead is because we started farming from scratch on land that his grandfather owned and it was always referred to as the Old Homestead, and so that’s what we selected as our farm name and stuck with it. We started out dairy farming and did that for 20-plus years, Sold the dairy cows about eight, ten years ago and transitioned into the beef. My older son enjoys the crops and equipment work. My younger son is the livestock man. He likes the cows, feeding them, raising them, breeding them with the genetics, and that’s his specialty. My husband is Jack of all trades. And then my daughter’s teacher, so agriculture’s in our blood.

Steve Melito: I like it. So when it comes time to turn that cow into beef, what happens? Do you slaughter the cows yourself? Do you go to a slaughterhouse? What do you do?

Tina Douglas: Sure, we do send them to the slaughterhouse, we don’t do the processing ourselves. I do utilize two to three different locations because each of the slaughterhouses offer different types of products. So I go to one particular because they make us hot dogs and snack sticks. The other one does a better job at cutting. So certain selections, besides selling in the retail store different cuts, we also sell halves, wholes and quarters. So we take those by order as well, as if someone orders a half or a whole, they can select how they want to cut if they want more steaks, if they want roasts, if they want a two pound roast or a five pound roast, sure ground beef or patties. So by paying and buying that half or a whole cow they give that also earn that ability to select what they want great, and how far away do your customers come? Well, in all honesty, we have some folks that travel from New Hampshire just for our, our beef. We also do a harvest host program on the farm, okay, so it’s where someone does RV camping and in exchange for the overnight stay, they support the business that they’re staying at. And these folks came three years ago and have now been back each year since and become family friends as well. That’s great, but for the most part our clientele is local, those that are traveling Route 20, route 28 in the neighborhood. Events like this is really my goal, to network, get our name out there, let more people know that we’re here. There’s a lot of people that travel Utica to Cooperstown and we’re halfway. It’s a great opportunity, and so we’re just. This event was to try to reach more people.

Steve Melito: Good, and I’m hoping that we’re going to do that with this in part. And is there a way for people to find you online?

Tina Douglas: Absolutely. I keep it simple. We just are on Facebook under Old Homestead Farm and, I should also add, my husband and son have a residential construction business.

Steve Melito: Okay, give them a shout out, if you like.

Tina Douglas: And that’s called Farm Boyz Construction: B-O-Y-Z.

Steve Melito: Okay, good.

Tina Douglas: And so both companies are on Facebook and, as far as email and phone or text would be the best way to reach myself directly.

Steve Melito: Great and if things go well, you continue to grow. Can you imagine someday maybe shipping your products elsewhere? Is that part of your long-term plans or goals?

Tina Douglas: Actually no. So my long-term goal is to do a tavern on the farm.

Steve Melito: Okay, I like that.

Tina Douglas: I want to do agri-tourism and ag education. My passion is to telling people about agriculture. I don’t know everything, I only know a little bit of the big picture, but I want people to be able to ask a question. Can I help them with a resource? Can I help them with a how-to right there are many industry professionals and organizations that focus on those areas and can I help the everyday person? Because now they’re not only two generations removed from the agriculture in the farm, you’re approaching four and five generations. People don’t know where their food comes from. There are so many choices out there, it’s overwhelming. And no, it’s not grown at the grocery store. There’s a difference between organic and natural. Is organic better, maybe not? I don’t want to tell somebody one way or the other, but I want to give them the resources to have that knowledge themselves. So the tavern is really my venue in order to do this. Someone can come to the farm. They’ve got the opportunity to purchase meat. They can stop and have some drinks, ask questions the cows are out on pasture right in front of them and in the meantime we’ll have special events that feature our meat and other local farm meats a traditional farm to table which has become a real buzzword, it sure has so that’s kind of my goal is to be able to set up that kind of venue, okay, and in that case we could utilize all of our meat products in that source and maybe put it on the table every day rather than special events. We’re not there yet, but that’s a goal that we have.

Steve Melito: Great. And last question grass fed or grain fed? What’s your thoughts about the best way to get?

Tina Douglas: Beef grain fed. Our cows are all fed corn silage.

Steve Melito: Okay, very good, there you have it. So we’re with Tina Douglas, Old Homestead Farm, Richfield Springs, New York. You can find them on Facebook. Come on up upstate and check them out.

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