It rains today. Like most of the country, we need the water. Starting with a disappointing snow season in the tourist-reliant green mountain towns, 2012 has been a year for irrigation.
The early spring months we normally call “mud season” in Vermont hardly left a spatter on the side of our all-wheel drive vehicles. We’ve had a few severe summer thunderstorms roll over the Adirondacks and scare the Lake Champlain sailboats back to their slips, but overall, it’s been a season of perfect sunny days.
Thanks to this California weather, we’ve had a season of California crops. Yields have been higher than expected, and earlier than usual. We’ve already brought in over 5000 bed feet of onions, many of which are storing for our winter farmshares. We followed recommendations of the state university agricultural extension programs to take our winter squash crop weeks earlier than usual.
Direct seeded and transplanted crops that are planted in succession have been quicker to produce and more plentiful. And more is better, right? It could be, but the problem with producing more is obvious. You must in turn, sell more.
This is no easy task in the Champlain Valley of Vermont where small diversified farms are more common than our roadside maple syrup stands.
Bureaucracy also plays into marketing. Many of the larger grocery stores continue to truck produce over thousands of miles when the product is available locally. It continues to be more cost efficient to pay for the shipment, rather than the higher cost of local produce that is adjusted to compensate the higher (average of $9.00/ hour) wages they pay their employees.
Other factors go into the choice to stock with out of state produce. Many larger retailers require regulated certifications like GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) for all of their vendors. GAP is a USDA program that offers voluntary independent audits of produce suppliers to verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
This sounds like an excellent food safety idea, and is very effective in being a watchdog for large suppliers. However, meeting the specifics of the audit requirements are a financial difficulty for many small farms, and arguably irrelevant. Small farms that do not meet GAP certification guidelines are not less likely to be safe in their food-handling, but not able to financially support the infrastructure that would be required, largely designed to address the needs of larger operations.
Not all parts of the country are as fortunate as we are here in the rural Northeast, to have so many providers of local vegetables, meat, cheese and value added-products. But here we are with the products, and an uncertain future for our producers. Farming is a often a tight squeeze, making ends meet, and if we do not support the local food industry, it can not survive.
The cost of local food is much higher than food shipped from elsewhere in the country and overseas. But what is the true cost of consuming those products? Fresher produce has more of the nutrients our body needs. You only have to compare a head of lettuce picked yesterday to one from two weeks ago to highlight the difference. Fresher food makes us healthier, more productive, and happier. Supporting our community farms is self-support, in more ways than one.
We all need supportive systems, to bring us out from under any weather that may roll through our fields, forests and mountains. We (the people) have the power to create supportive systems and build our environments back to the pinnacles of freedom and hope we are so proud to be a part of. It will take trust. That if we start investing in our local economies, the cost may be higher at first, but it is an investment in a better future for America. We will have to try harder. It is much easier to go to Wal-Mart and one-stop shop. But we can find what we need through other avenues, and will be rewarded in quality and in an eventual return to a strong national economy, based on what we produce here. We can’t do it alone, but image what 314 million people can do together.
Dinner is served. And all we have to do, is help ourselves.
To find out more about local products near you, try by starting here: http://www.localharvest.org/