One percent of our population makes their living from agriculture. Most are at least two generations removed from farming, if not more. Ask many of our urban children where their food comes from and they answer, “From the grocery store.”
These are disturbing trends for agriculture. Fewer people are directly connected to agriculture, experience of farm life, or have any idea where the food we eat comes from.
With this loss of connection comes a loss of understanding and support for the very industry that brings one of the three critical needs for human survival: food. Farmers experience this loss of connection every day. The misunderstandings of agriculture lead to wrong ideas. Ideas as bad as the United States Environmental Protection Agency trying to regulate the amount of dust a farm can produce. The loss of connection increases the importance of reaching out to the public to improve their awareness and appreciation for where their food comes from.
It’s not as difficult for rural communities like ours here in Northern New York, to establish and maintain a connection between the farm and the public. Our residents have many opportunities to drive through the countryside and see farming happening. They also have the privilege to visit a great agricultural attraction like Old McDonald’s Farm in Sackets Harbor. But for urban areas, and for some of our people who don’t get out into the countryside, there are great opportunities to make a connection back to farming and where your food comes from. In many instances, farmers markets allow the public to meet the very people who picked the tomatoes, sweet corn and other fruit and vegetables from the farm that morning.
Farmers markets are one of the major “faces of agriculture.” At a farmers market, the public can meet and talk with the people who grow their food. For most farmers at the market, it’s about finally being rewarded for their hard work, someone paying for the food they grow.
In some ways, though, the entire agricultural industry’s success rests to some degree, on the shoulders of farmers market vendors. The presentation of farm products, the friendliness toward customers, stories told across the table, the quality and cost of food; each contributes to building good will and support for farming.
In many cases, this is the only time a consumer meets a farmer. All those people milking cows, raising beef cattle, and harvesting wheat are an abstract face “out there” somewhere. But a person visiting a farmers market is met with a smile, knowledge about the product, and personal touch that an advertisement encouraging us to drink more milk cannot bring. While the farmers market vendor might be a part-time farmer, the importance of their personal contact with the public carries full-time value to the agricultural industry.
To view a list of Farmers Markets in Jefferson County, visit: www.comefarmwithus.com/FarmersMarket.htm and watch for the annual “Local Food Guide” published by your local cooperative extension office.
JAY M. MATTESON is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident who lives in Lorraine. Contact him at email@example.com.