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Countdown to Saving Farms and Farmland

A farmer’s list of New Year’s resolutions for supporters of local agriculture.
By Lorraine Stuart Merrill

Let us count the many ways to foster a vibrant farm economy and save farmland. As a farmer, I offer a list of New Year’s suggestions for anyone who wants to support local farmers and farmland—from new converts to the cause of local foods to seasoned advocates of farming and ranching. When it comes to supporting local farms, each individual can make a real difference. Resolve to turn over some new leaves in 2008—like trying a new variety of fresh leafy greens from your own garden or from a local grower.

Explore localvore!

  • Patronize your favorite local farms and farmers’ markets.
  • Find at least three new sources of locally grown or produced foods.
  • Shop at local retail food markets that promotefresh, locally produced foods.
  • Invite family and friends for a localvore potluck—brunch, picnic lunch or supper. Ask everyone to bring a dish featuring foods from local or regional sources. Don’t worry about being purist (spices, coffee and tea are ok). The goal is to discover and share the flavors of your own region.
  • Join or start a local foods organization or blog.
  • Increase the percentage of your diet that comes from local sources.

Look for other local or regional products and businesses.

  • Look for locally or regionally grown plants, flowers, Christmas trees and other seasonal and regional specialties.
  • Patronize local farmers who may sell farm-made compost, aged manure and other resources for home garden and landscaping projects.
  • Seek out restaurants, cafes and other vendors that feature and promote locally and regionally produced foods and products.

Help save farmland—and keep it in farming and ranching.

  • Write a letter to the editor in support of local efforts to conserve farmland.

    Volunteer to serve on—or start—a local open space or land conservation committee.
  • Join your local land trust and renew your membership in American Farmland Trust.
  • Support (or spearhead) local efforts to fund land conservation in your community.
  • Call or write your representatives in state and federal government when funding for agriculture and land conservation is at stake.
  • Support efforts to keep agriculture as the primary objective on locally conserved or public-owned lands.
  • Support “current use” and other forms of property-tax relief for farmland and forest owners.
  • Educate yourself about our food supply. Choose healthy, nutritious foods but avoid panic over every scary sound-bite and marketing ploy.

Get involved in local government decisions that make a difference.

  • Speak up for local farms and agriculture.
  • Help start a local agricultural commission or committee to promote farming in your town, city or county.
  • Sign up for American Farmland Trust’s e-newsletters at www.farmland.org.
  • Read the American Planning Association’s Policy Guide on Community and Regional Food Planning at www.planning.org/policyguides/food.
  • To conserve land, fight to reduce lot-size and setback requirements for new homes.
  • Support denser and mixed-use village, town center and infill development in order to conserve open lands.
  • Check your local government regulations for “farm-friendliness” and spearhead an effort to make needed changes.
  • Learn about the backgrounds and views of candidates for local office—and vote.

Welcome farming in your community.

  • Understand that farm noises, smells and messes can be a nuisance, but without them we could not sustain ourselves, nor could we maintain precious open space.
  • Be patient when you get stuck traveling behind a slow-moving tractor or piece of farm equipment.
  • When a neighboring farmer spreads manure on a field near your home or workplace, remind yourself and others—that’s the aroma of natural, organic fertilizer. Those recycled nutrients are keeping your view green.
  • Planning a graduation party or outdoor wedding reception? Let your farm neighbors know in advance so they can adjust manure-spreading schedules!
  • Respect farmers’ property.Privately-owned farms are not public parks, and can have very active businesses occurring on site. Ask permission to walk, ride, hunt, ski or observe wildlife—out of courtesy to the owners and for your own safety.

Nurture our future conservationists.

  • Volunteer to help coordinate farm-to-school efforts like sourcing local foods for school lunches and snacks, arranging farm visits and classroom learning opportunities, and helping children grow food in school gardens.
  • Make sure local schools offer fresh milk and produce in vending machines instead of soda and junk foods. Work with school boards and staff for positive change.
  • Bring the children in your life to a farm to learn where food really comes from.
  • Give the gift of gardening—help a child plant and tend their very own “yardstick garden” of vegetables and flowers, or hill of pumpkins or gourds.
  • Take a child berry-picking and apple-picking at a “pick-your-own” farm. Teach them how to select and carefully pick ripe fruit and observe nature.
  • Read to children. Choose books and poems like Donald Hall’s Ox-Cart Man that recount and celebrate the rhythms and cycles and relationships of agriculture. Go for a walk or hike with children and teens to explore their environment.

Lorraine Stuart Merrill is the new commissioner of New Hampshire’s Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food. She and her family operate Stuart Farm in Stratham, New Hampshire. AFT honored them with the Steward of the Land Award in 2003.

American Farmland Trust