Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and are seeking out local farm products. Many farmers and ranchers have responded by finding creative ways to satisfy this burgeoning consumer demand. Here are seven ways that farmers and ranchers are supporting the “growing local” connection:
Farmers’ markets: Farmers’ markets represent a traditional way of selling agricultural and homemade products. Depending on what’s in season, they may offer everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to dairy, eggs and meat. Many markets, which often operate outdoors in public spaces and may be seasonal, also offer festive and fun activities, from music performances to cooking demonstrations.
Farm stands and roadside farms: Some farmers sell their products straight from their farms at farm stands. Ranging from modest outdoor sheds to elaborate indoor markets, these operations offer customers fresh seasonal food and a way to discover local agricultural products in a friendly atmosphere and convenient location. Farm stands and roadside markets have made a dramatic comeback in recent years.
Farm-to-chef, farm-to-store and farm-to-school: Farm-to-chef programs are linking farmers and ranchers with chefs who want the freshest, highest quality ingredients for their restaurants. Chefs Collaborative, for example, is a national network of chefs and culinary professionals who work closely with farmers and food producers. Some farmers are contracting directly with store managers who have expanded their produce, meat and dairy sections to accommodate growing consumer demand for local food products. And farm-to-school programs are connecting local farms with schools, colleges and universities. The programs serve locally produced foods in cafeterias in order to improve nutrition in school lunch programs and educate children about food and farming.
Farm-to-institution: Increasingly, corporations are recognizing that the health of their employees is directly related to the heath of their diets. Cutting-edge companies such as Google now make an effort to serve local foods in their company cafeterias, and some hospitals have started farmers’ markets for their employees and patients, a trend initiated by Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center.
Value-added agriculture: Many growers of fruits and vegetables and other crops now process their own products on the arm: apple pie from fresh local apples or ice cream made on a dairy farm, for instance. “Value-added” refers to an increase in the value of a food product through processing or marketing. This alternative production and marketing strategy is helping some farmers increase the economic value and appeal of their raw products, although it requires a good understanading of the food industry and food safety issues.
Agritourism and you-pick operations: Agritourism is a form of eco-tourism that connects vacationers to America’s agricultural heritage, giving people the opportunity to visit or vacation on working farms and ranches. Agritourism is popular in places where farming is still a vital part of the local culture, including wine growing regions and farm destinations such as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the Kona region of Hawaii and dairy country in Vermont. “Pick-your-own” or “you-pick” operations allow visitor to harvest their own fruit
Community-supported agriculture (CSA): A CSA is special kind of farming operation that sells subscriptions to people who want a personal relationship with a local farm. In exchange, subscribers (also known as members or shareholders) receive a share of the weekly harvest, typically including fresh fruits and vegetables; some now offer flowers and bedding plants, meat, dairy or eggs as well. The first American CSA started in Massachusetts in 1985. Today there are more than 1,500 in North America.