Amy’s Kitchen Public Hearing Draws a Crowd
GOSHEN—There were close to 100 people for a hearing on Amy’s Kitchen at the Goshen Town Planning Board meeting May 30 with some people standing near the walls.
Representatives from Amy’s, an organic food manufacturer, presented their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and site plan for a 369,000 square foot food processing plant and a 200,000 square foot event space for Science of the Soul, a spiritual practice the owners are involved with.
According to their calculations, the manufacturing plant, just north of Route 17M, will create 681 jobs on site and another 190 indirect yearly operational jobs. By the end of its 15-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), they estimate the plant will generate $4.7 million in property and non-property taxes a year.
Most of the public comment centered around Amy’s labor practices, the potential impact on local agriculture, and the owners of the company, Andy and Rachel Berliner, whose daughter Amy they named the company after.
Town Supervisor Doug Bloomfield said from his interactions with the Berliners, the sole owners of the privately-held company, they “do what they think is good for the employees.”
He pointed to their plans for an on-site medical facility that employees and their family can use, employees’ 401K plans, and the financial support the Berliners give to children of employees who want to go to college.
“You can see the love and attention they’re giving to their employees,” he said. “I really don’t think we can find a better, more well meaning, honest group of people to work with.”
Chris Pennings, an adviser for Knapp Consultants, Inc. a recruitment firm in Rock Tavern, went out to California to see their plant in Petaluma. “What they say is how they are,” he said. “The nurturing of their employees, the laid back aspect [are all true].”
Irving Zuckerman, co-president of Verticon Construction Services, LTD and a member of the county planning board, said having a manufacturer like Amy’s would be a boon for local agriculture.
Representatives from Amy’s have said they are looking to source food for the plant as locally as possible, and are willing to work with conventional farmers to make their farms organic, including financial help with the certification process.
One of the only concerns expressed during the hearing came from Planning Board member John Lupinski, who owns a vegetable farm in Goshen. He said with all the manufacturing jobs the plant would provide, the already strapped agricultural job market could suffer.
“Labor is in very short supply now,” he said. “People that work in agriculture are very skilled, they can do anything from manual labor to operating equipment. Growers out there are really concerned that a lot of these people are going to go do something else.”
Responding to a resident’s concern after the hearing that the buildings would destroy wildlife on the property, Mark Rudolph, chief financial officer and executive vice president of business development at Amy’s, said they are building on a site that was formerly the property of the Al Turi Landfill, and another site where the county mined for gravel. “So these are two pretty used and abused pieces of property,” he said.
The wetlands on the property and the Wallkill River that flows through the site are protected by buffers, he said.
In addition to Goshen residents, County Executive, Steven Neuhaus; Orange County Chamber of Commerce President, Lynn Cione; and Director of Business Attraction for the Orange County Partnership, Bill Fioravanti all spoke in support of Amy’s coming to Goshen.
“Manufacturing jobs are something we don’t see anymore,” Neuhaus said. “I think it’s a positive for Orange County.”
Representatives from state Assmeblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) offices were also there.
The public will have till June 10 to give written comments through the Town Building Inspector’s office. All concerns and questions will have to be answered in the final Environmental Impact Statement.
About 60 percent of Amy’s business is on the East Coast, so when the company started looking at building a plant, New York was a natural option, said Rudolph.
He said after the hearing they looked for “a long, long time,” and finally settled on Goshen because of its proximity to highways, the fertile land in the area, and a local work force that could staff its plant.
There are virtually no education requirements to work there, he said, although training is required, and employees do not necessarily have to speak English. The plan is to source all jobs as locally as possible. “The furthest away would be Middletown,” he said.
Because the property runs near the proposed Heritage Trail between Goshen and Middletown, they are planning to run sewer and water lines under it before the county and paves it. Amy’s received a will-serve letter from the City of Middletown earlier this year to provide sewer and water services to the site.
Rudolph said local government, businesses, and residents have all been very accommodating and receptive to their plans.
“We’ve felt nothing but support,” he said.
To contact this reporter, email [email protected]