March 2021 TCCOG Report

Monthly Report

Tompkins County Council of Governments

March 10, 2021

by Councilperson Robert Lynch, Enfield TCCOG Representative

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met on February 25th.  It was mostly a learning session for us.  Our only major action was, as expected, the formation of an intermunicipal Broadband Committee to assist in the information-gathering and report  dissemination of the forthcoming professional study aimed at enhancing and expanding access to broadband Internet communications in Tompkins County’s rural communities, including Enfield.  As established, the committee currently has ten members, generally one per municipality.  An eleventh member will likely be added soon.  Our first committee meeting could come within the month.

Katie Hallas, Project Coordinator for Tompkins Food Future, provided the principal presentation.  Tompkins Food Future is a locally-backed initiative to develop a “comprehensive food system plan,” much like the Comprehensive Plan for land development that Enfield has.  The study’s been underway for about a year.  It’s most notable outreach effort so far has been the online “Food Future Community Questionnaire” one that many of us have already taken and that remains as a link on our Enfield Town website.  Ms. Hallas reported that nearly 400 people have taken the survey to date.  She acknowledged it may not serve as the best tool to gauge food needs and wants, but it serves best in a pandemic.

In response to my inquiry about food pantries, Hallas gave a shout out to our own Enfield Food Pantry and its Director, Jean Owens.  “Enfield is awesome.  Jean is amazing,” Hallas said.  “I’ve seen her in action,” Hallas continued, adding “I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how Enfield is the best pantry, with the best food.”

Katie Hallas surprised me by saying our county has as many as 17 pantries; most smaller than Enfield’s, less equipped, and with fewer volunteers.  She also admitted that at some locations, “the food is sub-par.”  “It’s not just about having enough, she said, “but having enough quality food,” that which meets both with tastes and with dietary and nutritional requirements.  I guess we in Enfield should consider ourselves among the fortunate.

Coordinator Hallas talked about the challenges facing farmers, particularly the rising cost of land, the competition for land among varied uses, and “food system infrastructure challenges,” those related to processing capacity and getting locally-grown products to market.  “Being a farmer is not necessarily a viable career path,” she said.  Farmers often need an outside income.

TCCOG member questions and comments ran the gamut.  Acknowledging the recent land use controversies in her neighboring Ulysses, Town Supervisor, Nancy Zahler, remarked, “We are supportive of agriculture, but farmers might say we have not been supportive enough of them.   Zahler talked of the “conflicting goals,” including those of balancing agricultural operations with protecting water quality.

Danby Supervisor Joel Gagnon complained about what he called the “open loop with regard to nutrients.”  Pursuing a line of reasoning that could take interesting twists and turns, Gagnon said we must do more “to get human waste back on the land.”  Food composting aside, Gagnon said, food waste often travels on “a one-way street to the landfill.”

Groton Supervisor Donald Scheffler raised perhaps the most critical observation.  Scheffler took aim at solar farms which he saw as gobbling up prime farm land.  He questioned how some county agencies, including the County Planning Department, can balance their objectives; promoting Tompkins Food Future’s initiatives, on the one hand, “while those same agencies are gung ho to cover the whole county with solar panels.”  And while some contributors to Hallas’ project have suggested we begin growing food on public land.  Supervisor Scheffler turned the argument around.  He urged the public land be set aside for the solar farms, leaving prime farm land available to agriculture.

Our next TCCOG meeting is set for April 22nd.  The Broadband Committee will likely meet sooner.

Robert Lynch, Councilperson

Enfield TCCOG Representative