I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Steve Neuhaus



Orange County Executive wants local food for local families

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus holds his infant son, Kristof, while chatting with daughters Emma, 5, and Charlotte, 2. Neuhaus has made local jobs and agriculture a priority while in office, and prides himself on his family-friendly workplace environment.

“A lot of parents are concerned about what their kids are eating. My wife and I are no different.”

The scene was a boardroom meeting in the office of Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. Around the table, all in suits, were the executives of Amy’s Kitchen; a leading organic and natural foods company based in California and Oregon. The company had been looking for a place to build an outpost on the eastern seaboard, and Neuhaus was on the verge of finalizing a nearly $100 million deal to bring them to Goshen.

Suddenly the door to the boardroom flew open, and in ran Neuhaus’s 5-year-old daughter Emma screaming “Daddy, daddy, we’re going to have a baby brother!”

And that’s how Neuhaus found out that his third child was going to be a boy (Kristof was born this past June; Neuhaus and his wife, Rachel, also have a 2-year-old daughter named Charlotte.)

Read more "I am a Hudson Valley Parent" profiles

 

Family-friendly office place

For many business deals, such an intrusion would have been a deal breaker. But as Neuhaus recalls, his daughter’s announcement had the opposite effect.

“The CEO of the company, instead of being offended that someone interrupted the meeting, got up and gave my wife a hug, even though he had never met her,” Neuhaus said. “He then turned to me and said ‘This is the type of community we want to come to.’ Coincidentally, his company, Amy’s Kitchen, is named after his only child. Everyone seems to be happy that we have a young, family-friendly atmosphere here in the office.”

 

Access to fresh, local food

Trying to bring new business and new jobs to your county is standard operating procedure for any politician. However, for Neuhaus, who just finished his first year in office as the Orange County executive, bringing Amy’s Kitchen to the table was especially meaningful. Neuhaus was born and raised on a farm in Orange County that his family still owns; he and his wife currently raise honeybees and keep chickens on their own property. Making sure his constituents have access to fresh, local, healthy food has been one of Neuhaus’s top priorities. “A lot of parents are concerned about what their kids are eating,” Neuhaus said. “My wife and I are no different.”

Read more: The true cost of food


Bolstering local farmers

Besides bringing Amy’s Kitchen to Orange County, Neuhaus has been instrumental in making sure that local agencies that provide food to schools, senior centers and veterans are using more local produce. That means initiatives like ditching the expensive romaine lettuce shipped cross-country that the county was previously using and replacing it with greens grown in the famously fertile black dirt soils in Warwick.

Neuhaus also recently procured a $100,000 grant from the USDA to support current Orange County farmer’s markets and create new ones — including some that will stay open year-round. Neuhaus says that bolstering the county’s farmer’s markets is a win-win situation: It lends economic support the county’s thriving agricultural industry while improving the health of Orange County citizens. “The markets are a very popular thing with families,” said Neuhaus. “I know it’s very popular with my family.”

Read more: Being healthy. Buying local.

Read more: Hudson Valley farmers help us eat healthier food

Making time for family

Food and family are inextricably linked for Neuhaus, and not just because he grew up on a farm. Despite the grueling schedule of a county executive, Neuhaus makes sure that he and his extended family — including his parents, sister, and brother-in-law — get together for breakfast and dinner once a week.

He admits that his job doesn’t always make this easy, but he knows that’s no excuse. “Everyone has something in their life to make them busy, whether it’s school or work,” he said. “But you always have to find time for this. You don’t have to have a glamorous meal. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what you have. It just matters that you spend some time together.”

Neuhaus’s career in politics, as well as his career as a lutienter in the U.S. Naval Reserve may keep him exceptionally busy, but it also has given him a unique perspective on the fragility of life.

“I’ve seen people that I’ve loved and cared for pass away. You don’t want to have any regrets, or think ‘I wish I had had more time with them; I’ve been too busy at the office.’”

And that’s why, no matter who he’s meeting with, his family and the families of his other staff members know that his door is always, always, open.

Do you know a Hudson Valley parent who inspires you? We want to profile local parents who impact their community through business, politics, volunteer work, grassroots advocacy, you name it. Submit your “I am a Hudson Valley Parent” nominations here.


Read more: What are CSAs and are they right for you?


Year-round markets for Orange County

County Executive Neuhaus announced back in October that Orange County would be awarded a $100,000 grant from the United State Department of Agriculture's "Farmer's Market Promotion" program. The award is the highest amount that the USDA distributes through this program, and will be used to promote the county's current markets as well as establish a year-round farmer's market. 

Orange County currently boasts more than a dozen farmer's markets. Unfortunately all of them open in May or June and close in October or November each year. That leaves a five month gap in which Orange County residents looking to support their local agricultural scene are out of luck.

While the idea of a winter farmer's market may seem like an oxymoron at first (what grows in January?), many Hudson Valley towns have established year-round farmer's markets that get through the winter selling local meats, cheeses, wine, honey, farm made jarred goods, and hardy storage crops like onions and potatoes. Thanks to Neuhaus's efforts, Orange County can soon look forward to enjoying the fruits of their neighbor's labors, even when the farms are blanketed in snow.




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