Adventures beyond time

Adventures beyond time

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Another Cool Small Farm Tour

Last Sunday morning, we went to our third small farm tour. Rosie’s Organic Farm is the biggest of the three. The first, Sand Hill, where we went for the Lacto-Fermentation Workshop, only had a bit over an acre in cultivation. Possum Hollow was the biggest in overall area, with 33 acres, but all except four or five remain wooded. Rosie’s has 10 acres, almost all in cultivation. It is also the only of the three that is certified organic by FDA standards. In fact, Rosie herself has served on the government advisory boards that help set the standards.

Having grown up on a traditional farm in New Jersey, she came to Florida as a student and got a Ph.D. in plant pathology. She started farming here when her kids were little. The farm is a CSA with 130 members who prepay for an allocation of fresh crops every week of the growing season. Their website explains the CSA idea and has nice photos

Although her husband helps after work and on weekends, there are several CSA members who volunteer, and she often has a full-time intern, essentially it is a one-person operation! She starts all her own plants from seeds, except the strawberry and potato plants. She grows, weeds, irrigates, harvests, washes, bags, and sells the produce. This is not a low-energy person.

We were again impressed that the infrastructure that moves produce from more industrialized and big farms to markets and consumers has yet to develop adequately in the local food arena. The growers put in so many hours farming that being also their own primary marketers is not very appealing…even though that is probably the most effective way to maximize their farms’ earnings.

On the other side, the consumers...both the general public and the restaurant chefs…have reasons not to want to have to seek out the produce at the farms. It is hard to know where to shop. It is impossible to know if a farm will have what you want to buy or if you will be able and willing to cook what the farm has available and abundant in a given week.

Farmers’ Markets help, but they require the growers to truck their produce in and the consumers to travel greater distances...and not be able to do all their shopping in one place. For example, one of our three Farmers’ Markets in Gainesville has parking issues. When we go, we have to pay to park and sometimes don’t find much that we want to buy. Only one of the three is within 10 miles of home. A 20-mile round trip to shop for our vegetables is not always practical. So we use the closest, which is not the one used the growers we’ve met and liked.

Chefs who want to use local food have their own set of problems. Restaurant customers are used to having vegetables that are not in season locally. They expect asparagus and tomatoes all year. They don’t expect kale and turnips, ever. And, the chefs have the same “shopping” problems as the general consumers.

I can’t help but think that in the next several years, more infrastructure is going to grow up around local food production. Not that I have a good idea of what it will look like...but someone is going to find a way to match the excellent produce grown on local farms with the eager consumers in a way that is financially and socially sustainable.

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