This month, many of you wrote to find out how to find a farm or market near you. At first, I thought the answer was obvious, but then I started thinking about a conversation that I had with my dad the other afternoon. He was calling to tell me that the last family dairy in the town that I grew up in was going out of business.
Over the past fifteen years or so the land around my hometown has slipped out of agricultural production, and weekend homes are popping up where I can remember only seeing open pasture or fertile forest. Driving through historic New England towns like mine, you see fields bordered by stone walls handmade 200 years ago or more. But as the farms are changing hands and some going out of business, we are slowly losing our connection to an industry and whole way of life that literally used to be right in our backyards. Meeting a farmer is no longer as easy as asking your neighbor “Who’s your milk guy?” or “Find any new sweet corn this year?”.
So the very basic question “How do I find a farm near me?”, especially if you live in an urban area, is not as intuitive as it was even 10 years ago. Thank you all who sent me this question – the answer is the absolute foundation of all the work we are doing around the 10 Ways guide. Here is my answer; I promise that it will bring you a feast for the senses from the smell of cow manure to the taste of a sun-ripe peach.
A: In the face of corporate mega farms and unstable market prices, many family farmers are turning to innovative business models to create a more sustainable future for their businesses and families. Farmers have learned that if they work directly with consumers, they will be able to control their sales price without increasing the amount that consumers pay. Contact with buyers also allows farmers to tailor their crops and products to the demands of their customers. This business model is called direct marketing.
In just five years, from 1994 to 2002, the number of farmers using direct marketing through farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs (CSAs), roadside stands and co-ops went up a remarkable 37%. Farmers markets alone grew 79% in a similar eight year period.
What does this mean for your average consumer? It means that, while there may be fewer farmers than in the past, there is a large number of farmers that are working hard to meet and please consumers with their fresh, local products. In fact, more and more ‘new’ and ‘young’ farmers are going directly to this business model, because it has proven to be very profitable in some markets. So between farmers markets, of which there are almost 4,000 nationally, and CSAs, which are rapidly growing across the country, consumers have a built-in pool of farmers who are actively seeking out customers to buy their products. So this is where I would start trying to find a farm near me:
Farmers Markets: they are fun! Farmers markets are a great opportunity to get to know many farmers in one trip. Also, because there are many farms represented, you can often find a wide variety of products from fruits and vegetables to dairy products, all-natural meats, baked goods, flowers and herbs. You can go the the USDA website, which catalogues all the farmers markets across the country, and click your state. This will give you listings that are organized by city. On this same site, you can also find information about how to start a farmers market if there isn’t one in your area.
Community Supported Agriculture: fresh food delivered to your house! CSAs are owned by share holders that make a payment in the early spring, and in return they get weekly deliveries of veggies, fruits, flowers and herbs (mine even comes with a loaf of bread!). CSAs are growing in popularity nation wide but they are especially prevalent in the Northeast, West Coast and North Central Regions. At the Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources website, you can search by zip code to find the CSA farm closest to you.
I think these are two of the simplest ways of finding local farmers who are actively working with consumers and who have their farms open to the public. However, tabling at an event in Boston, I came across a map of Massachusetts which was produced y the State Department of Natural/Agricultural Resources and has listings ofmany different kinds of farms. From pick-your-own spots to coastal aquaculture locations, this map has them all. So, I also strongly recommend calling your state Department of Natural Resources or Department of Agriculture and asking them to send you any publications that they might have about visiting local farms.
Also, you can always call 800-Farm-Aid, and we can get you connected with a group working with family farmers in your area. Good luck, and remember: tell me how you fare! I can’t wait to hear about it!
Laura, The Farm Aid Shopper