The title of this month’s article is a quote from farmer and writer Wendell Berry. In 5 words, he conveys that farming directly impacts you every time you eat, so you are involved in farming whether or not you care to be.
Farmers own 1.7 million acres of land in NYS. That is more than 48 times the area of the Town of Caroline, and most of it will be changing hands in the next couple of decades. 92% of these farmers do not have a young farmer (under age 45) working with them, and no plan for transitioning their farm to another generation. The last agricultural census in 2012 also saw a general decline in young farmers, with 30% fewer in NY than in 2002. These trends spell disaster: concentration of food production into fewer “mega” farms, and paving over of farmland for parking lots, stores, and houses. Farmland “developed” in this way almost never returns to grazing or crop production.
So what? We still have plenty of open space in our town, and as long as there is food in the grocery stores, does it really matter? Well, that depends on how much you value having control over your sources of sustenance, and how much you trust that the increasingly behemoth corporations controlling the vast majority of seed, feed, and chemicals have your health and well-being as a top priority.
Also, perhaps you remember when all planes were grounded for several days following the 9-11 attacks, and there was a run on grocery stores? The shelves were quickly emptied when our fossil-fuel lifeline to the rest of the world was temporarily severed. What will it look like if weather disasters or fuel scarcity/prices mean the trucks and planes are out of commission long-term?
So there are reasons for fear, but we don’t need to be driven by them. What about beauty? Watching animals peacefully grazing; seeing rows of carefully cultivated crops or bales of hay waiting to be picked up from a field. What about taste? The first mouth-watering ear of local sweet corn of the Summer, or the juice of that incomparable first garden tomato running down your chin. What about self-sufficiency? The pride of knowing our community could feed itself if needed.
All of this makes the case for a strong local food economy. While we can’t yet grow coffee or citrus here (well, we can, but that’s a whole different article), farmers in Tompkins and Tioga Counties are producing proteins, grains, dairy products, vegetables, nuts, and fruits to fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Supporting them may sometimes be more expensive or inconvenient, but those food dollars that you spend locally get re-circulated in our economy. If every one of us spent 10% of our grocery and dining dollars on local foods, we would generate over 29 million dollars of economic value for our region, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension. This would translate to thousands of new jobs and prospering local businesses.
We need more customers to buy products from local farms, even when it’s less convenient. And we need more farmers, homesteaders, and gardeners producing good food for themselves and their neighbors. This will strengthen the fabric of our community and, by extension, our community’s resilience in the face of an uncertain future.