By the time I learned about National Farmer’s Market Week it was too late to celebrate with the rest of the nation, but it reminded me of the changes in the ways farmers now market their crops, and affect the economy of our communities.
Agriculture has been important to our part of Massachusetts for decades. There were many dairy farms, but they were starting to close down when we moved to Heath in 1979. When we moved to Greenfield in 2015, there were no longer any dairy farms in Heath at all. While there are many fewer dairy farms, there are now more and larger vegetable farms, egg farms, meat farms, fruit farms and other farms that feed us fresh local food.
This transformation has been helped in multitudes of ways in our area by various organizations, as well as by new young farmers. One important event was the creation of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation in 1979, FCCDC. It offers business development education, access to capital, commercial office and manufacturing space. It is also home of the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, which has grown over the years and allows farmers to freeze a portion of their crops to sell during the winter. They can also create and cook up salsas, sauces, and other products. This value added capability is a benefit to the farm economy.
Some entrepreneurs who aren’t farmers have made use of local crops by creating products like pickles. Dan Rosenberg made his first batch of pickles for sale in 2001; in 2002 he began working with the FCCDC. By 2009 he moved the ever growing business to its own building right across the street from the FCCDC.
Fourteen years after the FCCDC began CISA, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, was formed. It celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Whether you know very much about CISA or not, I am sure everyone in our area is familiar with their Be A Local Hero posters and labels. CISA provides promotional and advertising material and technical and business training to farmers. This year 265 farms and landscape/garden centers, 64 restaurants, 43 retailers, 24 institutions, and 16 specialty producers joined together to raise awareness and sales of locally grown farm products. They also work with ten local farms to provide vegetable shares to low income seniors. This year they are serving 420 seniors.
Our communities have shown amazing growth in the development of local farms. Ryan Voiland started farming in Montague when he was in middle school. He sold his produce at a farmstand at his family’s house. In addition to acreage in Montague, Voiland and his workers now tend 50 acres of farmland in Granby. Some of their produce is sold in Boston and Worcester as well as locally.
Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox started their one acre Kitchen Garden Farm in 2006, but now they work 50 acres in Sunderland and sell their vegetables to restaurants and retail stores like Green Fields Coop.
Maria Topitzer farms the Lyonsville Farm in Colrain. Her farm is quite small at this point but she sells about 250 varieties of vegetables at the Greenfield Farmers Market, and those who buy a CSA share can assemble their own choices. I think she will gain more acreage over time, as others have.
The invention of CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture, has helped new young farmers get started. Customers buy their Share of the harvest early in the spring. This helps farmers with their expenses at the beginning of the season. Once crops begin to ripen customers come and pick up their share once a week throughout the season.
Green Fields Co-Operative Market, has provided a local market for organic food from many of our local farms.
Many farms have set up farm stands right on site. Hager’s Farm Stand on Route 2 in Shelburne is quite an extravagant example of what a farm stand can be. The Hager family has been farming for seven generations and they now sell maple syrup, grass-fed beef, lunches and soups. Ice cream too. And they sometimes have great events that appeal to children.
Some farms stands have a few tables in the barn, and some have a single table by the road side. All those farm stands are a part of the agricultural economy. No one is going to be a millionaire, but we all have access to good fresh food.
Finally we get to our Farmers’ Markets. Greenfield’s Saturday Farmer’s Market brings many vendors together from Clarkdale Fruit Farm, to the small Lyonsville Farm, to the Just Roots Farm that includes food for sale, CSA shares at a discount for seniors and 60 community garden plots for individuals and organizations. I’ll have more information about Just Roots Farm soon.
Other towns have their Farmer’s Markets as well. We are all fortunate in our area to have local food available from so many outlets, including the big supermarkets that have seen the value of local food to their bottom line.
I may have missed the national celebration for Farmer’s Markets, but I am happy to celebrate the availability of delicious and nutritious local food, and the ways a portion of it is made available to those with low incomes every day. Bon Appétit to all. ###
Between the Rows August 18, 2018