Bringing Farmers and Consumers Closer Together
Throughout most of the twentieth century, our local communities were thriving. We had sawmills, gristmills, fruit and vegetable farms, butcher shops (with butchers that may have known or raised the animals), dairies (many offering local delivery), and bakeries. Much of the food (and many other items) found on store shelves was from area farmers and producers.
Today we import most of our food. We depend on grocery chain stores to make it available to us. And while it’s clear that we’ve become very effective at producing affordable food for much of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic, among other recent / current geopolitical events and climate change issues, brought to light an unexpected lack of security in our food chain (and several other consumer product distribution chains, too).
Farmers were unable to ship produce or livestock to distributors, processors, market outlets, or slaughterhouses. And American consumers experienced (and to some degree are still experiencing) panic buying, empty store shelves, rationing of food staples, and the inability to obtain certain food items and consumer goods altogether.
To better endure a crisis in the future, we need to build more sustainable, more resilient food systems. One way to accomplish this is to bring producers and consumers closer together.
Reasons to Grow, Buy, and Eat Local
Because the produce they grow is distributed around the world, industrial farmers must prioritize packing, shipping, and shelf-life issues. They grow fruit and vegetable varieties that have been bred to withstand mechanical harvesting and long-distance shipping. But farmers who sell directly to local consumers select and grow superior-tasting varieties and harvest crops when the quality of freshness, nutrition, and flavor are at their peak. As consumers, we can choose fruits and vegetables that are picked before they’re ripe, factory-washed, sealed in plastic, transported across the continent or halfway around the world, and in some cases, artificially ripened with gas, or locally grown (and prepared) in-season foods, which taste better and are more nutritious.
When we buy directly from local, independent producers, we access the shortest supply chain possible. We help neighbors who care about the health of their land, their animals, and the quality of the food they sell keep their land in production and grow their small, family-run businesses, while growing our food. And the money we spend; dollars that might otherwise be lost to large multi-national corporations; stays in the community.
Instead of growing huge plantings of the same crop year after year; an agricultural practice known as monocropping; small, local farms grow a variety of vegetables and fruit in market gardens, using practices which maintain soil health and protect biodiversity and long-term food security. Small producers tend to minimize their use of pesticides, for example; even those whose farms that aren’t certified as organic. And they often grow in ways that maintain crop and insect diversity (e.g. enriching their soil with cover crops, creating border areas for wildlife).
What’s more, buying locally-produced food eliminates the need for transportation over great distances, which reduces or eliminates the environmental impacts associated with long-distance shipping and our household carbon footprint, as well.
Even though the American food supply is one of the safest in the world, food safety risks do exist. Food can become contaminated at many points and for many reasons (e.g. unsanitary cargo areas, damaged packaging, unclean shipping containers, improper regulation of temperature, bad employee habits) on the journey from field to plate. So, food produced on small farms is often safer, too.
If you’re looking for ways to shop local, eat fresh, stretch your food dollars, and support local sustainable agriculture, look no further than your local Farmers Market. They’re places to buy local produce; often picked that morning; at a fair price. And many area markets also offer herbs and spices, local grass fed and finished meats, free range chicken and eggs, delicious local maple syrup and honey, homemade baked goods, jams, jellies, cheeses, snack foods, fruit juices, wines and liquors, bedding plants, body- and health-care products, and much more. So before you take that next trip to the grocery store, consider coming out to a nearby farmers market instead. You’ll get to meet the growers and producers, ask questions, provide feedback, and share recipes, gardening tips, and ideas.
We’re fortunate to have such an abundance of locally produced foods, as well as horticultural, health-oriented, and craft products, so readily available to us. And, with market managers working to make sure that there’s a consistent assortment of goods available, you can one-stop shop with confidence, at your local farmers’ market.
Adirondack Harvest (adirondackharvest.com) is a Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) community-based local food and farm promotion and development program with a strong commitment to small scale, sustainable farming, and a focus on developing and expanding markets for local farm-fresh products. Years of effort by CCE Educators across northern N.Y. have resulted in the development of more than 60 local-community-based Adirondack Harvest North Country Farmers’ Markets (adirondackharvest.com/markets
), now open for the season at convenient locations in every northern New York County. And for a more extensive list of Adirondack Harvest associated growers and businesses and what they offer, visit adirondackharvest.com/ browse
Photo at top: Keene Farmers’ Market. Photo credit: Adirondack Harvest.
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