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The 800 pound butter sculpture of a scene off the farm (seen here on the World Dairy Business Blog) is usually the headliner at the Dairy Building of the New York State Fair.But people wait in a long line for another hot item being used to promote New York’s dairy industry: a cup of milk that costs a quarter at the dairy bar.That includes a young James Moore, who says "It’s the best chocolate milk and white milk I’ve ever tasted in my life." "The Chocolate is more chocolaty and it’s nice and cold."The milk is all whole milk, which probably helps. Chocolate milk rules overall. The milk bar serves five cups of chocolate for every cup of plain milk.Mary Ellen Chesbro, agricultural manager for the fair says the total cups served goes up every year. This year, she's hoping the milk bar will top 400,000 cups of milk out this year.The whole operation is run by a task force of volunteers from the dairy industry, from farmers to distributors. The goal is to promote New York dairy – the state’s biggest agricultural product.Seventeen-year old Dale Durant, who serves milk to fairgoers says it can get pretty busy at the counter."Really nice days there’s a lot of people here. Weekends we get really busy."So to get a taste, go when it’s raining.And keep an eye out for the other smart entrepreneurial move in the Dairy building - the Syracuse bakery selling cookies next to the milk bar.

Irene flooding destroys 140,000 acres of New York farmland

Yesterday, farmers in the Schoharie Valley met with New York's Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel Aubertine (second from right). They told him relief can't come fast enough.
Marie Cusick
Yesterday, farmers in the Schoharie Valley met with New York's Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel Aubertine (second from right). They told him relief can't come fast enough.

Close to 140,000 acres of farmland were destroyed when the remnants of Hurricane Irene blew through upstate New York last weekend.

The historic covered wooden Blenheim Bridge, in Schoharie County, was one of the many covered bridges in the Northeast that washed away.

Along Main Street in the village of Schoharie, a makeshift sign commemorates the bridge’s demise, and hurls an old-fashioned insult at Irene, calling the storm a “Tory.”

That’s because this valley, 40 miles west of Albany, is known as the “Breadbasket of the American Revolution.” Its fertile lands helped feed revolutionary troops.

Now, buildings that have stood for centuries, and weathered a war, are gone.

“Mind-boggling” destruction

Sandie Prokop is a second-generation farmer from Crossbrook Farms in Middleburgh.

“It’s mind-boggling,” she says, “when you stand in the middle of the Breadbasket of the American Revolution, and you look, and there’s nothing there.”

Over the weekend, the storm destroyed the road to her home.

“It is like the moon,” she says. “There are craters you could put a house in that were taken out of that road.”

Prokop’s lost some cattle and at least half-a-million dollars in feed. But she says others have it worse.

“It’s a very difficult thing to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and see your whole life, and to not [know] where it’s going.”

Could’ve been worse

A few miles away, Richard Ball’s roadside produce stand at Schoharie Valley Farms appears to be unscathed. But a look downhill at his fields paints a different picture. Many of his crops have been destroyed.

On Sunday he and his family were evacuated from the valley, because of fears that the Gilboa Dam - just 30 miles away - might break.

Ball is thankful that didn’t happen.

“Had the dam failed, on top of the high water, there would have been 30 or 40 feet of tidal wave that would have come down through this valley - which would have been, you know, biblical almost,” Ball says.

However, the flood still left its mark: Ball’s crops are coated in thick mud. But he says he’s more concerned about his friends and neighbors a mile down the road, in the devastated village of Schoharie.

“We lost some crops, and that’s tough,” he says.  “But in our community - all my customers, all my neighbors - virtually every house in our town that never had [flood] water before, had six, seven, eight feet of water.”

Time to rebuild

Federal, state, and local governments have sprung into action. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has estimated the statewide agricultural loss at $45 million.

On Thursday, New York’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets Darrel Aubertine visited farms in the Schoharie Valley.

He says it’s still unclear how aide will be distributed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), so farmers should keep track of their losses.

“Document all your time. Document your fuel. Document time you spend cleaning debris, repairing roads,” says Aubertine.

Aubertine also visited Ball’s farm, and looked at the damaged crops. Ball told the commissioner that relief can’t come fast enough to his neighbors.

“They need some financial fuel,” Ball told Aubertine. “[They need] a feeling like, ‘We can rebuild this, we can fix this, we can overcome this.’ And I have every confidence that we can.”

Despite all the destruction from the floods, Ball is still hoping for some rain.

He says the right amount might be able to wash away the mud and save some of his crops.

WMHT/Capital Region reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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