Thursday, July 31, 2008

Farmers Come to Market

While on vacation in the Catskills, there was a back road called Farm to Market Road which ran parallel to the main road, 9W. Maybe it preceded 9W or was merely more direct route from the farm to the city. The road ran past many rolling hills of farmland, much of it which appeared to be "still working." As I drove, I thought of a local article I'd just read by Amy Kenyon, "A Sense of Place: The Catskills Working Landscape" (Catskills Region Guide, July 2008). She writes about the goal of preserving not just land, but a workable, sustainable landscape. This represents the farming hertiage of the Catskills, she argues, and provides not just scenery, but community, economy, and culture--not to mention, great food.

The real Farm to Market road these days is I-87, which upstate farmers use to bring their goods to the City and local suburbs. Traffic, gas prices, accidents, and weather all contribute to make this a daunting journey, even in the high summer season. The City, in a renaissance of local food awareness, is welcoming the bounty and the effort, ready to renew the "farm to market" connection. It's exciting that so many people are interested in local food and willing to pay more for the privilege.

The relationship comes with "issues" apart from logistics. Small local farmers may find it difficult to "ramp up" production and deal with success of having many more buyers, as the recent Dines Farms case points out. Organic or local standards may get bent or even broken, despite efforts to assure quality by the Greenmarkets and others. (Many consider the USDA organic standards to be onerous for small farmers.) Plus, what may be fashionable this season, may not sell in the next, or the overall economy may push people back to cheaper food. Nonetheless, I hope that the local food trend itself is sustainable and will not just be forgotten or co-opted by Whole Foods and the "big-business" farmers. In the height of the summer growing season, here's to hoping that the business model grows too, and that the interest in local, sustainable food and food hertiage helps sustain and support these hard-working farmers for many years to come.

Some great recent articles about local food, and one very old one (1989!):
The Man with a Pig Over his Shoulder, by Daniel Meyer on Bittman's Blog, 7.28.08
I've seen the Flying Pigs Farm truck in my Brooklyn neighborhood, so they must be delivering here too.
Farmer Deals with Drop in Business and Credibility, by Irandi Sen, NYT, 7.30.08
A Locally Grown Diet with Fuss, but No Muss, by Kim Severson, NYT 07.22.08
Farmer's Apples Aren't Pretty, and She Like Them That Way, NYT, 10.09.89
An old profile of Amy Hepworth, who runs one of my favorite family farms; every week I buy her produce at the coop. Her family's farm was found in 1818, so that's pretty sustainable!

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