LITTLE VALLEY – What does it take to be a farmer, and what can farming regions do to keep young people from giving up on the business and moving away?

Those are key questions being mulled by the Cattaraugus County Farmland Protection Board as it also considers which crops do best in Western New York soil, how to maintain farm equipment and what state regulations pertain to farmers. Board members believe farmers need answers to those questions in order to ensure that new farms have a chance for success.

On the heels of a community forum to discuss the future of farming in Cattaraugus County, board members held their own open forum last week in which they said one of the biggest problems is the public’s lack of education in the farming process and what goes into the life of a farmer.

“A lot of people just don’t realize what goes into it,” board member Brian Davis said.

Others on the board see the direction of farming in the United State as being in a precarious place.

“Right now, we are going through a period of time when it’s discouraging to be a farmer,” member and Farm Bureau representative, Charles Couture said.

Couture, a Franklinville resident and farmer, is active with the annual Maple Weekend and Maple Festival tours and sees how disconnected the general public has become from the process of growing and preparing food for consumption.

The fault does not rest with the people, according to the members of the board. People need to get out and see what is happening on these farms to understand what it takes to be a farmer, as well as to see where that meal on the dinner table comes from, they said.

Many schools in the county have either cut back or done away with agriculture programs. The county has lost its physical location for the Cornell Cooperative Extension service, leading to questions about where people can go to get information and a better understanding for the agriculture business.

That’s where the concept of agri-tourism can come into play for the farmers of Cattaraugus County, board members said. The idea is not new, but has never been acted on, according to county tourism director Crystal Abers. There have been pushes to bring people in to see how farms are operated, to talk to the farmers and get advice for years, but agri-tourism never has taken hold.

Abers went on to say agri-tourism can help in showing how important resources like school agriculture programs, Cornell Cooperative Extension and 4-H clubs are to public understanding.

The board also talked about having county legislators tour farms around the area so they have a better understanding of the state of agriculture in Cattaraugus County.

The next meeting of the board will be at 1 p.m. April 23 in the Little Valley County Building, 303 Court St.