The image of the family farmer holds a special place in the hearts Americans. Fifty years ago a small family farm would probably have been passed down from one generation to the next, or sold to another small family farmer. These days it’s much more likely that the land will pass into the hands of a large-scale farm. According to the 2017 America’s Diverse Family Farms report from the USDA, medium- and large-scale family farms and non-family farms (annual sales of $350,000 or more) account for 77 percent of the value of U.S. production even though they only account for about 10% of the number of farms. Large-scale farms have more resources and tend to be more willing to ship their produce further to increase the number of markets available to them. (source)
Aside from our national admiration of small family farmers, there are solid environmental and economic reasons for supporting them. They have a vested interest in the community and the environmental health of their family and neighbors, not to mention the fact that they put their income back into the local economy. But big farm or small farm, the more we can buy from the farmer next door rather than the farmer across the country, the less shipping is done in the process. The more we limit shipping, the less fuel we use, and the less our country is dependent on limited oil resources. In a world of rising fuel and food costs, not to mention food waste, it makes sense to focus our attention and buying power on the farmers in or near our own communities.
Here are some ways you can help your local family farmer.
1) Shop at your local farmer’s market or purchase a CSA share.
Find a local farmer’s market with Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guide
2) Volunteer at a farmers market.
Most farmers markets have volunteer positions available. Volunteers are integral to helping farmers markets operate smoothly, from answering questions at information booths to unloading farm trucks. The next time you make a trip to the farmers market ask about volunteer opportunities.
3) Eat seasonal foods
This goes hand in hand with shopping at CSAs and farmers markets. There are all sorts of resources for seasonal recipes. Sustainable Table offers recipes and information on eating seasonally. Two great recipe blogs that categorize by season are 101 Cookbooks and Smitten Kitchen. If you want to go one step further, preserve a favorite local food for the winter. Check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation for tips.
4) Get to know your local farmer and thank him or her when you buy food at the farm stand, farmer’s market or CSA.
The more respect farming gets as a profession, the more young people will be drawn to the field. According to the USDA, the average age of farmers in America was 58 in 2012, which doesn’t bode well for the future of local farming unless young people start picking up the torch.
5) Ask your grocery store manager to supply foods from local farms.
Many grocery stores are open to suggestions, particularly if a few customers ask for the same thing. Be prepared to provide a list of local farms and dairies the manager could contact. If the manager says he or she isn’t authorized to make those kinds of decisions, ask who does and call or write to that person.
6) Help establish a relationship between local farmers and your school.
Feeling really ambitious? The National Farm to School Networks offers a variety of resources to help start or expand a farm-to-school program in your area.