When I drove into the Greenfield High School parking lot last Saturday morning at 10:30 the parking lot was already full. Fortunately, I saw a couple with full canvas shopping bags get in their car and drive away; I took their spot.
When I walked into the school lobby it was clear Winterfare 2009 was in full swing with more local farms represented than I knew existed in our area. One of the largest booths belonged to Red Fire Farm in Granby tended by Ryan Voilland and his crew. Ryan grew up in Montague and found his passion for farming when he was in middle school. This is his 9th season of farming full time since he graduated from Cornell and in addition to all the root crops I expected to see, Red Fire Farm was selling beautiful heads of lettuce, Asian greens and a mix of greens. All fresh. All grown in an unheated greenhouse. I stood in line ready to fill my shopping bag.
I came with a list and bought a bag of apples and ‘Vintage’ cider from Clarkdale. I was assured that the cider was Vintage because it was made with old apple varieties like Baldwins, not old apples.
I bought a beautiful Sunshine winter squash; raw honey from Warm Colors Apiary; yogurt from Sidehill Farm; chevre from Chase Hill Farm and celeriac from Riverland Farm. After reading Aaron Falbel’s praise for celeriac I could not resist the gnarly roots. My dinner guests Saturday night were amazed and delighted by the fresh local glories on my table.
It seemed that every kind of farm was represented. Shoppers could buy beef, pork, veal, and lamb as well as every kind of root vegetable, an array of jams and jellies, pickles including saurkraut, blueberries, yogurt, milk and cheeses, not to mention sheepskins, wool roving, and skin care products made with honey. Soups and stew prepared by Bart’s Café, Green Fields Market, Hope and Olive and the Wagon Wheel were served up for lunch. Every morsel prepared was eaten.
If there was any doubt in anyone’s mind, this Second Annual Winterfare Market proved that farmers did have produce to sell even in mid-winter, and that eaters were ready to buy that local produce while they enjoyed the carnival atmosphere.
I also enjoyed thinking about the productivity of our land. Many of the big dairy farms have gone out of business, but dozens of small farms have bloomed along the by roads of the county. That means fresher food for all of us, and it means an energy and financial savings because of lower transportation costs. It means jobs for would-be farmers.
According to Andrew Martin’s article in Sunday’s New York Times the number of farms increased 4 percent between 2002 and 2007, most of those new farms are small, or even part-time operations. I know in our area farmers have often had a second steady income off the farm in the family.
Now we are a nation of giant farms, and really tiny farms. According to Martin 900,000 of the 2.2 million farms brought in $2500 or less. I like to think the farms at Winterfare do better than that, and I hope that with growing interest in local produce including meat, that they can do better still.
Martin also says that the face of the farmer is changing. There are more Hispanic farmers, and the number of black and Asian farmers is growing. The number of Native American farmers has doubled. We know that in our own region there are more women farmers. The number of organic farms has increased. In 2002 there were about 12,000 and in 2007 the number was about 18, 200. Again, that trend is reflected here.
I absolutely promote high tech, bio-tech, and alternative energy industries in our state, knowing they can be important for our economy. But it is also important to remember how big the green industries are in our state. We don’t always think about the economic contribution that these diverse activities make. In addition to dairy, vegetable, fruit and meat farms, there are flower farms, bedding plant operations, sod farms, timber farms, and plant nurseries.
Yesterday I talked to Mary McClintock, one of the organizers and author of Wednesday’s column Savoring the Seasons. She said while they were all exhausted at the end of the day they sat around “grinning and full of stories of ‘did you see this?’ and ‘did you taste that?’ and ‘wasn’t that display amazing?’ and ‘so many smiling people.’ She wondered whether there was something magical about the Barter Fair room. “I’m sure that people walked out of that room with more food than was walked into that room. . .it just seemed to multiply as people traded and chatted! . . . We lingered, savoring the huge success of the day”
It was a joyous event. Like Mary I’m “continuing to surf the wave of all of that wonderful community energy.”
And I’m hoping there is enough of a wave to bring us more than one Winterfare next year.
February 14, 2009