It all began in 1991. Dawn and Jeff Zarnowski bought a hill top property in McGraw, NY and started what they then called a 'very serious hobby'.
After 25 years of continuous hard work growing and hybridizing hundreds of walnut and chestnut trees, they decided to turn their hobby into a business. Now, Dawn and Jeff Zarnowski are the owners of Z’s Nutty Ridge LLC, a native nut nursery.
The Zarnowskis decided to expand their business to provide their native nut hybrids to the NY commercial orchard community. The Zarnowskis decided to expand their business to provide their native nut hybrids to the NY commercial orchard community. In 2019 the Zarnowskis developed a production and marketing cooperative called the New York Tree Crops Alliance (NYTCA) to encourage more entries into the hazelnut and chestnut production industry. Creating a producer and marketing cooperative has allowed them to share processing equipment and facilities that individual growers would have difficulty acquiring on their own.
By combining the resources of multiple growers in New York State and surrounding areas, the NYTCA can make their products available through retail, wholesale, domestic, and international outlets that a single grower could not.
Between the Winter of 2017 and the Spring of 2018, Onondaga SBDC Advisor Frank Cetera reviewed the initial cooperative proposal and supporting documents. Together they engaged in conference calls and email communication to discuss the details of co-op models, by-laws, and coop formation laws. With feedback and analysis of their financial statements, the Zarnowskis had a solid plan to move forward. “(SBDC Advisor) Frank, in dealing with many different organizations, has a network of resources and knowledge base that a start-up needs; he provides sage advice and connects you with the needed resource without wasting time” notes Jeff and Dawn.
Dawn and Jeff were already experienced business owners and took the initiative to further research and collaborate with other nut cooperatives, recruit members, and form the cooperative corporation through New York’s Cooperative Corporation Law; allowing them to legally use the word “Cooperative” in their name, and be recognized as a non-profit entity “for the rendering of mutual help and service”.
The Zarnowskis believe that “tree crops benefit the world and humanity in significant and multi-faceted ways”...such as the fact that “Hazelnut and chestnut orchards can complement grape and apple orchards and can utilize CNY’s rolling hillsides (that have gone fallow) in a sustainable manor.”
Since the beginning of this journey to create this cooperative and bring the benefits of nuts as perennial crops to New York State, the Zarnowskis have realized that education of the general public, consumers, and economic development personnel would be imperative. To that end they are currently developing a tax-exempt non-profit arm that would conduct strictly educational activities.
For more information on Z’s Nutty Ridge and becoming a member of the NYTCA, visit www.nytca.org
Article published in the BJNN on November 18, 2019
Frank Cetera is an Advanced Certified Business Advisor at the Small Business Development Center located at Onondaga Community College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org