A place at the table: pilot development of America`s first agricultural heritage area
CALS Impact Statement
Cornell Development Sociology faculty help the Concord Grape industry establish America`s first agricultural heritage area.
issue being addressed
In this era of unprecedented globalization, fruit and vegetable commodity producers are struggling to find ways to adjust, evolve, and become sustainable. But this is difficult to achieve in the current economic environment of least-cost labor, consolidation and international competition. Traditional commodities have gone through various crises in recent years: cranberry gluts are forcing industry restructuring; accusations of price fixing and water pollution in the wild blueberry barrens of Maine have tainted the reputation of that industry; the dissolution of the Washington Apple Federal Market Order, along with cheap apple imports from China, have put enormous pressure on North America's fresh market apple industry in Washington's Yakima Valley. Meanwhile, poor weather and low prices are hurting the family-run vineyards in the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt and their allied processing and marketing businesses.
Industrial restructuring, including grower and processor consolidation, seems almost inevitable. However, we are demonstrating an alternative path to the future of these traditional commodities is to capture and market their rich regional heritage as well as the enormous contributions they make to American food ways and developing working agricultural landscapes. National, state and local "heritage areas" already exist, building educational tourism around sites of significant events and developments in American history, such as wars and conflict, development of industries, building canals, and establishing women's rights, issues of slavery, and the like. We believe it is possible for traditional American commodity regions like the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt to capture and make use of their heritage. We are confident that many of these regions have enough "heritage muscle" to draw tourists and consumer interest that will translate into new sources of income and sustainability. We are piloting the concept of the "agricultural heritage area" (AHA) in the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt where Welch`s launched America`s first commercial fruit beverage.
With assistance from the Community, Food, and Agriculture Program at Cornell University, the Concord Grape industry, including the National Grape Cooperative (owner of Welch`s), and all other concord grape processing cooperatives and companies in the Concord Grape Belt have come together with numerous other local agencies and development organizations to form the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association. 130 grape growers and allied businesspeople in the region are due-paying members. The Association is working with the New York State Heritage Areas Program in the creation of a formally designated heritage area that could provide resources for the grape industry to promote its heritage, vineyard lands preservation activities, a product "label of certified origin" marketing campaign, and an interpretive trail within the existing Seaway Trail scenic byway. The Association is also presently conducting an economic impact study of the Concord Grape Industry (which preliminary estimates suggest are over $400 million dollars per year). These and other activities are expected to raise consumer awareness of the rich history of the Concord Grape, and the many benefits it makes to the quality of life in Western New York and Pennsylvania , and the United State as a whole. As a model of place-based community development, this pilot agricultural heritage area will inspire other struggling commodity production regions to tap and take advantage of their special heritage contribution to American culture.