Shop sustainably and buy direct from farmers. Small farms hold a lively place in the community and can be a wonderful place to find fresh produce and eggs.
I remember seeing local farms and farmstands everywhere when I was growing up. My mom and I often visited local farms to pick up produce that we didn’t or couldn’t grow ourselves. We did so to help support the farmers, to get the freshest seasonal products available, and to catch up with neighbors, whom we probably hadn’t seen all winter. You see, local farmstands and farms used to be a gathering place for the community. I vividly remember visiting the milking cows, chickens, and other farm animals while my mother shopped or chatted with neighbors.
In my neck of the woods, the local farm was often the first place a young person could find a job. I know, because that’s where I started. It was hard work: The hot summer days were spent planting the fields or tending the livestock, while fall brought the harvest. Though the work was hard and for little pay, I learned a great deal and still apply those lessons to my garden today.
The local farm was also where you could walk away with more than produce. You could catch up on the town news and, yes, the gossip. The town was like one big family, and everything was expressed at the local farmstand. You might run into a local politician and have the chance to make your voice heard, all the while checking out the cucumbers or green beans. People would chat about deer season or the best fishing hole. You won’t find that in today’s fast-paced world of mega-supermarkets. In the need to have everything now, we’ve lost part of our local culture.
Furthermore, the local farm had produce that varied by season. There was no such thing as “fresh” strawberries in winter. Produce on the farm reflected what was available at that specific time. We made do with what we had. Cheap, mass-produced fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy — much of which is grown elsewhere and shipped to us — has changed all of this and forced many small, environmentally friendly farms to go under. However, all isn’t lost. Fewer small farms exist today than in the past, but there’s still plenty of locally produced products out there if you know where to look. It’s still possible to buy direct from farmers.
Why Buy Direct from Farmers?
There are many reasons to purchase your food locally. The main reason is to know what you’re purchasing. Local small-scale farmers are stewards of the land. These farmers, most of whom have families that have been farming for many generations on the same piece of land, know a ton about conservation, water issues, and soil health. Their farms were self-sustainable long before “sustainable” became a trendy catchphrase. Small farmers were able to keep their animals healthy and productive long before the mass use of antibiotics. They had to be proficient in their stewardship, because their livelihoods depended on it, and their products show this love and respect for their land and animals. This isn’t the case for the corporate supermarkets. You never know what you’ll get. Where did that tomato come from, and what was it sprayed with? How was the meat raised, fed, and ultimately slaughtered? You can avoid these questions by buying direct from local farmers.
The second reason to buy from small farms is that it supports the local economy. Many local farms are family-run businesses with tiny profit margins. Whether they produce maple syrup, healthy meat, non-chemically treated vegetables and fruit, or fresh eggs, their existence may rely upon selling their products. Like everyone else, farmers have bills to pay too. They have property taxes to cover, fuel to buy, repairs to make — the list goes on and on. It takes a great deal to keep a farm running.
Participating in your local culture is another good reason to support small farms. Family farms continue to be places where children are free to roam and learn about where their food comes from. There, children, and even adults, learn that not all tomatoes are perfectly round or even red; that eggs come in colors other than brown and white; and that chickens don’t originate on a white plastic-foam package.
Finding Small Farms
Many small farms have gone under because of business costs. Now, the market is limited, and large factory farms flood it with mass-produced vegetables, fruit, and meats. While they can afford to undercut the prices, some small farms just can’t compete. That being said, these farms still exist, and they need our support. They might even be close to where you live.
There are a number of ways that you can find a farm or farmstand near you.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is often the best way to locate local food. That’s how I found Riverview Farm in Plainfield, New Hampshire. My daughter is excellent at finding these places, whether for maple syrup, fresh vegetables, or just to play with the cows. Once she finds a good one, she passes that information on to me.
Many farms that sell their products to the public have websites where you can find their times of operation, location, and even background information on the farm itself. This might include how they raise their livestock and crops, and which products are currently available. This is how I found Benedikt Dairy in Goffstown, New Hampshire. This small farm, with its easily overlooked sign, sells vegetables, meat, and dairy products. On the day I visited, I found something very surprising: The farm store runs on the honor system. You pick up what you need and pay with a credit card; if you’re a regular with a store account, you just fill out a slip and drop it in a slot.
I also found Rocky Meadow Farm in Francestown, New Hampshire, through a web search. Wayne LeClair raises a small herd of grass-fed and grass-finished Galloway cattle. The cattle are never given grain or antibiotics, which makes them a healthy alternative to meat found in grocery stores. While the most affordable option is to purchase a whole or half animal and have it processed, some farms may offer smaller portions, or you may be able to buy cuts as needed.
Contact Your State Agricultural Department
A web search or phone call to your state’s agricultural department can help connect you with local farms so you can buy direct from farmers. Here in New Hampshire, I can make a general search on the state’s Department of Agriculture, Markets, and Food website, or I can search by product. Check out your own state’s agricultural department website or call the office; you may be surprised to find local farms close to your house that you weren’t aware of.
Drive the Back Roads
Driving around without a specific destination in mind isn’t the most efficient way of doing things, but it’s effective. With more and more people raising poultry, you’ll no doubt come across at least one sign advertising eggs for sale. One taste of fresh chicken or duck eggs, and you’ll be ready to give up store-bought ones for good. Believe it or not, small-farm-produced eggs are usually less expensive than store-bought ones. Plus, you can often find more than just eggs. Little stands at the ends of driveways sell everything from fresh flowers to vegetables. This was common when I was living in Hawaii, where the locals hardly ever bought fruit or vegetables in grocery stores. Many locals were wont to start a fruit farm business and had local produce, from bananas to passion fruit, readily available. The same is true here in New Hampshire.
I love state fairs; they’re a wealth of information and fun. More than just a place for cotton candy and giant pumpkins, the Hopkinton State Fair in New Hampshire hosts booths or stalls for local farms. I usually visit every booth to learn about what each farm produces and how it does so. I always take a business card or brochure so I can visit the farms later. This is how I found Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, New Hampshire, and Yankee Farmer’s Market in Warner, New Hampshire.
Miles Smith Farm raises grass-fed and grass-finished Scottish Highland cattle, and sells the meat in its store. It also sells chicken and rabbit, as well as products from other nearby farms. Yankee Farmer’s Market specializes in pasture-raised bison, and it teams up with local farms to offer chicken, venison, and other products.
Ask the Locals
When I lived in Hawaii, local fruit and vegetable stands with homemade farm stand signs lined every road, and every town had regular farmers markets. I found the hot spots by asking the local residents. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, and eggs abounded.
The same was true while I was in Arizona. There, Mortimer Farms was the place to go for fresh produce. Despite the harsh drought conditions, Mortimer had all sorts of vegetables as a result of its water-collection ponds.
In Kentucky, Woodland Farm produces heritage everything, from eggs to pork and some of the more unusual vegetables. If you want it, Woodland probably grows it. How did I find these wonderful places? I asked the locals.
Every state has local farms that produce and sell healthy, locally grown meat, dairy, produce, and other products. Sometimes you just need to put a little effort in to find them. Whether you purchase some or all of your food from local farmers, you’re stimulating the local economy and preserving the cultural heritage of your area. You’re also providing your family with a healthy alternative to the questionable products found in grocery stores. In this day and age, that peace of mind is worth something.
Wondering what life is like for small farmers? Check out one writer’s perspective on running a family farm.
Dana Benner writes about all aspects of survival, farmsteading, and the outdoors. His work has appeared in print for more than 30 years.