Finger Lakes farming goes to Washington

Gwen Chamberlain
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand greets Ruth Osborn of Fox Run Vineyards and Dottie Mugavero of Women for New York State Wines.

When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand made the rounds at last week’s New York Farm Day in the Senate Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Building, she met a fair share of Yates County residents and former residents.

Visiting with her guests, she explained why she hosts the event, which she calls “one of the most exciting events in the capital all year.”

“It’s very important to highlight and celebrate all New York has to offer. This is a way to promote New York’s products,” she said.

It was also a great opportunity for representatives from the smaller farming communities like Yates County to have some meaningful exchanges with Gillibrand and Sen. Charles Schumer, who also attended.

Farm, winery and restaurant representatives, along with supporters from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, Women for New York Wines, Farm Bureau and other organizations mingled over samples of New York foods and beverages.

Among the exhibiters was Penn Yan native Scott Drewno, and two of his chefs, who served organic chicken with buckwheat dumplings

Drewno is executive chef of The Source, the restaurant owned by Wolfgang Puck which is located in The Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.,

In a room full of amazing flavors, textures and aromas, the dumplings stood out as one of the favorite samples of the evening, and yes, affirms Drewno, the buckwheat came from Birkett Mills in Penn Yan.

Gillibrand shared a few moments with Drewno and his chefs, and later explained, “The Source is my favorite restaurant in Washington D.C. He (Scott) does a great job. I didn’t know he was an upstate New York guy!”

Guests at the reception also enjoyed fresh greens, fresh oysters, clams, smoked duck, salads and pumpkin shooters from the Long Island region; hand made candies from the Culinary Institute of America, spirits made by Tuthilltown Spirits in the Hudson Valley region, spring rolls from Freshwise Farms in Rochester, apple black bean salsa from Red Newt Cellars and specialty flavors of ice cream from Cornell University and a north country creamery that is the first to produce wine ice cream.

Yates County and nearby Finger Lakes wineries that offered wines included Anthony Road Wine Co., Arbor Hill Grapery, Fox Run Vineyards and Cafe, Hunt Country Vineyards, Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, McGregor Vineyard Winery, Ravines Wine Cellars, Lakewood Vineyards, Chateau Lafayette Reneau and Imagine Moore Winery.

Long Island and the Hudson Valley wine regions were also represented. Welch’s poured samples of grape juices and Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty offered a sampling of jams, crackers, cheeses, dressings, chocolates and more.

The event was organized by Penn Yan area native, and former PYA classmate of Drewno’s,Jennifer Cooper of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. It was previously hosted by Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was Senator. Gillibrand was appointed to complete Clinton’s term after President Barack Obama appointed Clinton to the Secretary of State post in his administration.

“I’m proud to continue the Farm Day tradition in Washington D.C., where we will highlight the fantastic produce and foods from across New York State,” Gillibrand said in a pre-event press release, adding, “As a member of the Agriculture Committee, I am focused on improving the health and well-being of our families. From rising childhood obesity and outdated nutritional standards to the crisis facing our dairy farmers and the opportunities with specialty crops, agriculture issues in Washington affect families in every corner of New York. New York’s farmers are a critical part of our economy and we must ensure their success. Strengthening our agricultural sector and promoting good nutrition for New Yorkers are essential to our long-term health and economic growth.”

Guests filled the massive room for nearly three hours. Staffers from several New York

Congressional Representative offices mingled with workers from several senator’s  offices, and more than once, exclamations about New York agriculture were overheard.

And with satisfied appetites, the guests departed with a better understanding of a New York they might not have known existed just a couple of hours before.

Farming is a $4.7 billion industry in New York, which ranks among the major agricultural states in the U.S. About 23 percent of the state’s land, or 7.1 million acres are covered by 36,600 farms.

Juanita Spence of Women for New York State Wines discusses issues with Sen. Charles Schumer.