NEW BALTIMORE — Travelers on the New York State Thurway who stop at the New Baltimore Rest Stop won’t have to settle for a roast beef sandwich from Roy Rogers or a frappuccino from Starbucks.
A Taste New York market selling a pick of Greene County’s homegrown fruits and vegetables will be set up in the new welcome center on the east side of the Thruway. The service area is about three miles south of the Greene-Albany county line and is located between Coxsackie Exit 21B and Exit 21A to Interstate 90 and the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties is taking on the task. Interim Cornell Executive Director Evon Antonio addressed the Greene County Legislature last Wednesday during its monthly County Resources Committee meeting. It is expected to open by mid- to late October.
“This is a pet project of the governor’s,” Antonio said. “There’s quite a few counties that have Taste New York ventures in their areas.”
Initially, when Cornell was approached about the idea by the state Department of Agriculture & Markets in February, the extension was asked to provide education and outreach at the operation. Then Ag & Markets asked the extension to take over the project because the operator of the south side of the service area withdrew from the agreement, Antonio said. Extension staff were notified of the change about a month ago and the board approved the measure.
The New Baltimore Service Area, operated by HMS Host Corporation, was the first Thruway plaza to offer Taste New York products year-round at its Travel Mart convenience store, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. It was chosen to sell products there due to its high volume of traffic and accessibility from the north and south lanes.
“We are in the process now of having conversations with Ag & Markets in terms of designing out contracts, developing a scope of work, defining a budget and how we fund it and operate it,” Antonio said.
Cornell has the ability to control the placement of local products the facility will sell and help farmers expand their marketing reach, Antonio said, adding the facility can accommodate a farmers market.
“Taste New York would provide a platform for us to go out and engage,” he said. “We’re trying to educate the public on what the region has to offer.”
The 11,000 square foot welcome center is expected to open this fall and will feature exterior architecture rooted in the area’s historical Dutch traditions, according to a statement from the state Thruway Authority.
“The regional welcome centers are helping us capture the governor’s vision to more closely connect consumers with the very best of New York’s food and beverage products that celebrate our region’s diverse agricultural strengths,” State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said in a statement. “We are excited to add the Capital Region Welcome Center to the growing list of Taste New York locations.”
The facility will give the county an economic boost by providing more tax revenues and encourage people to visit Greene and Columbia counties, Antonio said.
“All that translates to an economic stimulus,” he said. “It will enhance tourism, hopefully — it has broad implications.”
The facility will hire a manager, assistant manager and numerous cashiers. Interviews for those positions will be held this week, Antonio said. Cashiers will provide customers with information about the origins of the products.
“Their roles are not only to stock shelves,” Antonio said. “They really are advocates and emissaries for enhancing the information that is available.”
Legislator Pat Linger, R-New Baltimore, asked whether a new stand would be on the south side of the Thruway.
The south side of the New Baltimore rest stop has a small Taste New York stand, but the new facility will be accessible from the north side only, Antonio said. Cornell has no input on the design and construction of the new welcome center, but Antonio said he isn’t overly concerned about access.
“Is it detrimental? Probably not,” he said. “The primary driver for the welcome center will be the Taste New York store.”
Drivers will stop at the location for one important reason other than getting fresh produce, Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, said.
“There will be restrooms, so people will stop,” Luvera said.
Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville, tipped his hat to Antonio and the Cornell staff for taking on the project.
“I appreciate you taking this endeavor, it sounds like a labor of love,” Lewis said. “I was happy to see it online.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.