Wednesday, November 01, 2006

New Foods as a Business

Morrisville State College has transformed itself from a two year ag and tech school into a four year college with some very innovative programs. I spoke to about three hundred of their students during my stay in Madison County, NY.

Morrisville State has developed a reputation as one of the premier equine programs in the world (240 students) and recently developed a food development center and dairy products incubator as it has innovatively looked at how to expand its mission. President Ray Cross is taking the college into an entrepreneurial vein, one that I heartily applaud. Students run floral shops, breed horses, run restaurants and have other “real-life” experiences while studying there.

One of Cross’ new programs is Nelson Farms, a food development center located in nearby Nelson, NY that originally was a stagecoach inn and then a restaurant. Dave Evans, who retired from Wall Street and ran a hotel/restaurant in Lake Placid, runs Nelson Farms. He told me, “We’ve got 300 to 320 different products that have been developed by 180 to 200 area citizens in the past three years. Our best sellers are salsas, BBQ sauces, jams and jellies. We’ve got one product that is in over 3,500 stores in only a year and a half.”

Evans spends most of his time helping food producers develop their products. He has set up four production areas in the facility, having invested over $1 million into food production equipment.

“Some recipes have been passed down through many generations and people have acquired a taste for them. But, we do tastings to help them develop them better for a wider market. We don’t allow the developers anywhere near those tastings, so that we can get an honest appraisal of the product.”

Morrisville State also has a separate Dairy Product Incubator to develop specialty dairy products and cheeses. It looks to me like the work of Morrisville State could help turn Madison County into an equine, food and cheese cluster. I was very impressed.

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