January 16, 2007

Dairy farmers turn to niche markets


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
Karl Frost, of Truxton, tends to his goats Monday. Frost and his wife, Alison, who breed and milk goats at their Route 13 farm, are among a  handful of Cortland County farms that have turned away from traditional dairy farming, which is becoming harder to sustain for small farmers.

Staff Reporter

Since the Arnold family became one of the first dairy cow farmers in the county to go organic nine years ago, the farm has increased its number of cows from 70 to 130, supplying a market where prices are nearly double regular milk prices.
The farm had to do something, said Kathie Arnold, who owns the Twin Oaks Dairy farm on Route 13 with her husband, Rick, and brother-in-law, Bob.
“Smaller farms are dropping out (of regular dairy farming) because the conventional price they are paid is so poor,” she said. “A couple of years it’s just been in the pits. And with rising fuel costs and land taxes, a lot have gone organic.”
The Arnolds’ farm is among a handful of small, local farms that have developed a niche, whether going organic, growing crops or breeding and milking dairy goats.
Over the last 30 years, the number of dairy cows in Cortland County has decreased by one-third — from 22,000 to 14,500, according to statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Dan Twentyman, who is just outside of the county in Tully, said his farm sold its 70 cows in 1992 when it was no longer worth the investment.
“The reason we got out of the dairy business was the time demand it took to do it, we just felt that we didn’t want to when the markets are variable,” he said. “People have to compensate by getting bigger — either bigger or get out of it.”
Twentyman said the farm has gotten out of the dairy business and shifted to hay growing and leasing space to other farmers for corn growing. Not only do those new endeavors prove more practical and lucrative than dairy farming, they also provide food for the farm’s eight show dairy goats, he said.
As the number of cows in the county decreases, the number of dairy goats countywide is increasing, according to statistics from the state 1987 and 2002 census of agriculture. The number of dairy goats increased by more than 300 percent in Cortland County from 1987 to 2002, from 56 to 233.
Jo Ellen Roehrig, program director for 4-H youth development for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, said even those numbers may be slightly skewed — due to an increase in census participation over time and an overall underreporting of dairy goats in the county — an increase in dairy goat farming has definitely taken place over the last 20 years.
Roehrig, who has about 50 goats herself, said more people have developed a taste for goat milk and goat cheese, creating a market for those products.
“There’s a wider clientele for that sort of thing,” she said.
She said local dairy goat farmers typically process the milk themselves and sell their products at local farmers markets, since they can’t afford the travel costs to get their products to processing plants and cooperatives.
Tatiana Stanton, a professor at Cornell University, said that could change as Don Robinson, a cow milk transporter, is working to transport goat milk from local farms to nearby goat milk processing plants, such as Evans Farmhouse Creamery in Norwich, which processes organic milk, butter, cheese and yogurt.
Karl Frost, who breeds dairy goats with his wife, Alison, at their Route 13 farm in Truxton, described the difference in taste between goat’s milk and calf’s milk.
“It’s sweeter,” he said. “Sometimes calf’s milk almost has a burnt taste. If you have one sip (of goat’s milk) you can tell the difference from the others.”
The Frosts, who are originally from New Jersey and did not come from farming families, said they could have gone into breeding dairy cows, but decided against it.
Alison Frost said potential clients, such as an out-of town former dairy cow farmer who recently e-mailed her, are looking for better investments than cows can give them.
“They (goats) make a lot of milk, considering their size,” she said. “You get a gallon a day out of it, considering it is a goat. How much milk do you really need? And they are easier to take care of and they are smaller.”
The Frosts have not only found a niche in dairy goat breeding, but they’ve also found a niche in growing a wide variety of vegetables, including potatoes and onions, and plants, that they sell at the Cazenovia farmers market and at the Real Foods Coop in Syracuse.
“We try to keep it small because we don’t have a big place,” Karl Frost said.



Study: Double number of  beds at county jail

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — As the county moves forward with plans to build a new jail, a study released this morning concludes the facility would need more than twice the number of beds as those at the current jail.
The $30,000 study, prepared by Washington, D.C.-based Carter Goble Associates Inc., says the jail needs 140 beds. The jail on Church Street has a capacity of 69.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said he wasn’t surprised by the number of beds recommended, although he did describe it as a “cautious” figure.
“I was estimating that we’d be looking at a 125-bed facility, so it’s a little higher than expected,” Schrader said. “But I think, if you’re looking at building for the next 20 years, it’s probably better to be cautious than not.”
Schrader could not say at this point how much a new facility would cost, but guessed that the price tag would be around $20 million.
The study used a handful of different formulas to project the number of beds needed by 2025, and came up with numbers ranging from 69-179. It found that crowding at the current jail “has more to do with criminal justice practice and policy than historical and future growth patterns.”
For instance, an emphasis on drug enforcement between 2002 and 2004 caused a spike in total arrests in the county to 381 in 2003, up from 233 in 2001, a 64 percent increase.
The total arrests dropped to 289 in 2005 due to lower staffing of the county drug task force, but a renewed emphasis on the task force should increase the number of arrests for the foreseeable future, the report found.
The report also pointed to sentencing practices in the county’s criminal courts as reasons for the overcrowding.
“Local jail sentencing practices has remained somewhat of a stagnant protocol,” the report said, indicating that generally judges hand down one of two sentences for felony cases — either six months of jail time as part of a five-year term of probation, or intermittent, weekend sentences.
Weekend sentencing is a big problem for the current jail, county officials agreed.
“I understand the judges want to have some sort of incarceration as an alternative, but weekend sentencing is a nightmare to manage,” Schrader said. “Frankly I’d prefer the judges sentence to anything other than that.”
Legislator John Daniels (D-Cortlandville), who chairs the county’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, agreed.
“Typically weekends tend to be a busier time for the jail, so when you have somebody coming in serving a weekend sentence, that takes up bed space you might need,” Daniels said.
Alternatives to incarceration have been used by the criminal justice system, although sparingly to this point, the report found.
For instance, electronic monitoring program recently put into place has only been used on 12 cases in the six months it’s been available, partially because, according to the report, District Attorney Dave Hartnett “was not in total agreement” with the program.
Hartnett could not be reached for comment on the study this morning.
Schrader said his only concern with building a new jail was that it might negatively affect alternative programs.
“I don’t want these alternative programs to fall by the wayside just because we no longer have a crowding issue,” he said.
Both Schrader and Daniels were hopeful a new jail would allow the county to bring in inmates from other counties, rather than the out-boarding that is costing the county an average of $85 per day.
“We’ve been talking generally about somewhere between a 125- and a 150-bed facility, and the thinking was that, if we have the extra space, we could maybe bring some people in to help offset the costs we’ve been having lately,” Daniels said.
Schrader said he’s been looking at potential properties for the new facility, but has had little luck to date.
A new jail would require between 8 and 18 acres of land and, due to transportation costs, would be located as close to the county courthouse as possible, Schrader said.
Two unnamed properties are being looked at, Schrader said, but both have limited available land. The Rosen industrial site off of south Main Street has also been looked at, but, “The environmental issues at this point are just too much to overcome,” he said.


Other findings in the report:
*Regarding female inmates, who because they must be housed in a separate cell block have contributed to overcrowding at the current jail, the report found that the number of females incarcerated has stabilized at an average of 103 annually. Any substantial change in the population is likely driven by male inmates, the study found.
*While the county has seen a 40-percent reduction in the overall crime rate over the 10-year period between 1996 and 2005, some violent crimes are up, most notably forcible rape crimes, which jumped 62.5 percent, from 16 reported in 1996 to 26 in 2005.
*The average length of stay for inmates hit a peak of 29 days in 2004, likely due to one judge being out of work due to an illness, the study found, but that number dropped to 23 days in 2005, and criminal courts have been effective in completing cases efficiently.


Council to weigh space needs

Staff Reporter

The Common Council tonight will outline two of three properties the city is considering buying to supplement or replace the overcrowded City Hall and Court Street Fire Station.
Although there is nothing in writing and no offers have been made, Mayor Tom Gallagher said three properties are being considered as possible options.
Two of them will be disclosed during the work session, but a third property won’t be discussed at the request of its owner, he said.
Gallagher declined to release the locations Monday, citing the work session as the most appropriate venue. The work session will be open to the public, but not public discussion. It will be at 5:30 p.m. in the Common Council chambers.
“This is just going to be one of the many work sessions that we’re going to have, because this is one of the most serious decisions that the Common Council will have made in years,” Gallagher said.
City Hall needs about $1.5 million worth of renovations, city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said, including a new roof, windows and heating and ventilation systems.
The cramped conditions of the Cortland Police Department in the bottom floor of City Hall have been cited by the state, Gallagher said.
The most likely scenario would involve relocating the city’s administrative offices from the second and third floors of City Hall, which would then be converted into a “justice center” housing City Court on the third floor and the police department on the first two floors.
The Cortland Fire Department is also “notorious” for its dire need of a new station, Gallagher said.
Fire Chief Dennis Baron and Police Chief Jim Nichols will present their departmental needs during most of the work session, Damiano said, as will Director of Buildings and Grounds Jim Sponaugle.
The mayor and Damiano will mostly be asking council members whether they would like to build a new fire station — Gallagher estimated the cost could be upwards of $3 million — or renovate and build an addition to the current station.
“Mainly, tonight we’d like to outline why we feel the projects are needed,” Damiano said this morning. “We really have to establish a foundation for the community to understand … that there are some very serious deficiencies in the facilities we currently occupy.”
Alderman Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) said he would examine all options. Taking property off the tax rolls is a concern, he said.
“We’re not really pinning down any specific area or structure — we’re looking at all the cost measures to make sure we don’t miss anything, and to keep the public informed as to how we’re going to proceed with this,” Michales said Monday.




Dryden Girl Scouts duke it out in self-defense class

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A third-grader would normally not be much of a match against an adult, but Madison Seamans and her fellow Girl Scouts in Troop 869 have an advantage.
Troop members learned self-defense techniques Monday night at the Dryden Middle school cafeteria. It followed a Jan. 8 session that focused on avoiding danger.
Troop leader Jody Soroka said January is Girl Scout Safety Month and the troop chose to focus on safety this month. She said in June the troop would be going to Washington, D.C., for a national Girl Scout Sing-Along to celebrate the 95th anniversary of scouting and the safety lessons could be helpful. Soroka said there are 15 girls in the troop, 14 of whom were at the training .
“We want to make sure they know what they’re doing for this trip,” Soroka said.
Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office road deputies Dawn Caulkins and Kevin Cowen, who are trained defense instructors, taught the students. Caulkins said they usually would teach young children how to be safe, or teach teens and adults self-defense techniques. The officers also have taught safety to six- and seven-year-olds at two Dryden police academies held in the summer.
The Jan. 8 session focused on basic safety — what to do if lost in a crowd, making a booklet identification that included fingerprints, identifying from pictures “trusted” people, and describing a person after an officer walked into the room wearing street clothes, Soroka said.
The officers described what areas to hit on someone attacking them — such as nose, eyes, groin and throat — and the weapons they had to do the hitting — hands, feet, elbows and legs. They also taught the girls how to stand — with one foot back, knees slightly bent and with body turned sideways.
“When you make that decision that you have to fight, you have to have a good solid stance,” Caulkins said.
The part of the lesson that the students had the most trouble with was vocalizing, yelling “no,” as they took their defensive stance.
“Just remember, when you go to Washington it’s not going to be quiet,” Cowen said.
As Scott watched she commented that children are taught to be well behaved and quiet. “It’s embedded in their heads to be quiet,” she said.
“It’s really fun and cool,” McKayla Macomber, a fourth-grader, said of the defense training. She said she had never taken self-defense before.
“You don’t know what to do. You’re just scared,” she said when unprepared.
“I’m prepared for it,” she said during a break in the class.
During the last part of the class, Cowen, dressed in a red protective suit, grabbed the girls and they had to escape from his grasp. Many of the girls forgot the shouting part.
Adults also typically forget to vocalize when being taught, Caulkins said.
“Hey, girls, don’t forget to yell ‘no,’” Soroka said.
Seamans said the class was fun.
“I think it’s really helping us how to learn to get away from people,” she said, after the class. “I probably could remember what we did today.”