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A Thorn in the Farmers Paw

Do you have things around you that are just a thorn in your paw, you know, something that just aggravates you a bit?  It doesn’t keep you from doing what you want or need to but is always there in the background.

One of those things for me has been the disconnection between buyers and growers of food. When we first began selling at farmers’ markets it seemed like a great model. Folks would come by to buy our stuff, choosing what they wanted and often returning the next week for more. Those sunny weekends in May were wonderful. During the season there was the ebb and flow of customers and seasonal products, then in October it was over. Exhausted farmers went home to plan for next year and customers went…. Where did they go? That question has become a thorn in my paw for the last few years.

We have tried several ways to market our products, tried several methods for extending our season and found that it is certainly an uphill climb. Honestly, it has become so easy to buy any product at any time and now have it brought to your door, I can understand why folks shop this way. Many folks choose the Organic label for the things not in those products, ie. Pesticides, Herbicides etc., I get that. I also feel the pressure to provide products during the time usually considered downtime for farmers. So, where are we? This thorn is getting to be a problem.

I would like to suggest that farmers and eaters meet somewhere in the middle to find a solution and I have a couple thoughts on the matter (surprise!). 

First, as eaters we need to focus on the things that are in our food and less on what is not. I am all about the idea of organic food, however, organic has become a label for the things not included in the product. It is possible for a conventional farming system to simply switch from manufactured pesticides and fertilizers to natural ones and call the product organic. There are over 100 approved pesticides for use on organic produce. Technically it meets the requirement but what does it add, which I believe is the important question we need to ask.

The science shows that food grown in nutrient dense soil provides better nutrition when eaten, something that the organic certification doesn’t consider. The nutrient level found in today’s conventionally farmed vegetables are up to 70% less than in found in the 1960’s. The minute a vegetable is harvested the nutritional value begins to decline, so given the shipping and shelf time a lot of the original value is lost. The organic label usually goes along with a higher price and that should reflect a higher value which it often does not.

Second, as farmers we need to understand that our consumer’s needs are there 12 months a year and do our best to meet those needs. I acknowledge the limitations of climate and conditions. In the past folks would preserve foods during the season for use in the winter but that art has been replaced by an app and a delivery service in a lot of cases. There are a fair number of folks still trying to buy local, fresh food and we need to be doing everything we can to support them.

The above picture was taken April 19 and is a pile of cucumbers we harvested that day. Since our last frost date is about May 10th and cucumbers take 55 days to mature it can be June in usual circumstances before you get a harvest, we beat that by 2 months. The best part is that they are growing in our nutrient rich soil without supplemental heat. How is that possible? Well I won’t give away all our secrets but using the current technologies available to farmers we are able to pull it off.

My point is simply that it is possible to extend the season early and late to meet the needs of more folks. I know we can’t meet every need but if you can buy vegetables and meat 12 months a year it would seem to me to be better for us all.      

If improving the quality of your food is important, look up your local farmers and support them now and challenge them to work towards extending the availability of their products. Reward these efforts by your support and together we can grow our local food system, every pun intended.

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