Support local food systems that support you
Between the Barrysville Farmers Market moving to Narrowsburg, the Lackawaxen Food Hub closing, a new food hub blooming in Sullivan County and the last winter weekend of the Honesdale Indoor Farmers’ Market, there’s a lot going on in community agriculture.
Not all of the local agricultural news seems hopeful. However, nationally, the number of farmers’ markets has increased 54% from 2008 to 2011, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has seen a 7% increase in registered farmers’ markets since 2013.
The thing is, food shares, farmers’ markets and local produce stands require community support. Unlike large, national and multinational farms, small producers don’t generally receive government subsidies to operate, and they don’t have the ability to market and ship their products far and wide. From meat of all varieties, to eggs, vegetables, honey, maple syrup and more, you can stock your whole kitchen with local food. It’s not as expensive or difficult as you think, and it benefits your health while creating more opportunity and wealth in your community.
If you’re working with a budget, start by replacing one or two items that you might buy from Walmart with something you can get locally, such as eggs, tomatoes, or onions. There will be farmers’ markets in Honesdale, Hawley, Narrowsburg and Callicoon this summer, for a start.
If time is an issue, and you’d prefer to go to grocery stores (which is also beneficial for the community) look for local names inside. The Tonjes’ Farm, for example, provides yogurt, milk and cheese to both Pete’s and Peck’s Markets. You may also benefit from a food share that delivers to a drop off near you, like the Catskills Food Hub, which is having its grand opening this month.
This summer, consider taking your family berry picking at any number of local blueberry or strawberry fields. You can leave with buckets of berries for much less than you would spend in the grocery store.
Eating locally-sourced food has a number of benefits. For one, it’s better for your health, since fresh food that comes from closer to home often retains more nutrients, is grown exclusively in season and isn’t pumped with preservatives or as many pesticides. Fruits, like bananas sold out of season, are usually picked before they’re ripe and then artificially “ripened” with ethelyne gas. You’ll end up reducing the amount of prepackaged and processed food you eat if you source your food locally rather than from national and multinational companies. The North Carolina State University Extension suggests creating a relationship with a local farmer so that you know what their agricultural practices are, since local farming doesn’t always mean “more organic.”
Despite what most people think, research shows that on average, local produce is actually less expensive overall than grocery store prices, provided you buy what’s in season. One study, conducted by the community accelerator SCALE, Inc. found that in 74% of communities the researchers examined across the country, produce was less expensive at farmers’ markets compared with supermarkets by 22%.
Lastly, sourcing food locally is, in most cases, beneficial for the economic prosperity of your community as a whole. Local grocers, farmers and food systems tend to employ people who live nearby and encourage entrepreneurship and partnership among farmers. Studies estimate that “mulitplier effects”—the ripple effect of spending money locally—for spending on locally produced foods to be between $1.32 and $1.90. “Meaning that, for every dollar spent on local products, between 32 cents and 90 cents worth of additional local economic activity takes place,” according to the NC State Extension.
On the flip side, local farmers, CSAs and food hub operators should also make an effort to make their products as accessible as possible. You can buy directly from many local farms, but it’s hard to tell from just a cardboard sign out front. Registering for online directories, including one offered by the USDA (where you can already find a listing for Root ‘n Roost Farm and the Tyler Hill Multi-Farm Meat Share) or Local Harvest make it easier for consumers to locate local products. Additionally, research has found that local food markets and projects sometimes exclude consumers who have lower-incomes or come from ethnic backgrounds less common in the area.
Local food systems shouldn’t be accessible only for the wealthy. That means creating options that allow for restricted budgets, time constraints and coming up with creative solutions to reduce the time and money it takes to get from farm to table.