On July 21 and 22, the first “Farm and Food Family Weekend” came to farms across Jefferson County. The event encourages families or anyone looking for something to do, to spend a day exploring all that Jefferson County’s agricultural industry has to offer. Farms and agricultural businesses participating in the program opened their doors, inviting the public to explore their operation.
Dani Baker, who, along with David Belding, owns Cross Island Farms on Wellesley Island, originated the idea. Dani attended an agricultural gathering and heard about a program in another county where farms were inviting the public into their operations on one weekend. The program was a great success, with thousands attending.
Dani approached me and Corey Hayes from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County with the idea of putting together a similar event in Jefferson County. For those that don’t know Dani, she is very good at making ideas happen. Soon she had enlisted a core group of farmers and ag business people to help on a committee to organize the program. Key to organizing the event was the participation of Tillie Young from the Thousand Islands International Tourism Council. The council provided their marketing expertise to develop a portion of their website, www.agvisit.com, for the “Farm and Food Open Door Weekend.”
Soon the committee had created a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FarmOpenHouse and had links established from the county’s ag website www.comefarmwithus.com. Sponsors including Jefferson County Chapter of Adirondack Harvest, Jefferson Bulk Milk Cheese Store, North Branch Farms and Venditti Vineyards provided funding for the development of brochures. Information was sent out to farms and ag businesses across Jefferson County. To the amazement of the committee organizing the open house, 26 participants signed up for the first event. The participants ranged from small vegetable operations, fruit farms, ag museums, pancake mix manufacturers, alpaca farms to farmers markets, feed manufacturers and dairy farms.
Organizers, including myself, thought we’d be lucky to have 10 or 15 participants in the first year. That would be the norm. Having 26 participants covering all of Jefferson County put the program in reach of anyone in the public who didn’t want to travel far to enjoy the “Farm and Food Open Door Weekend.”
The purposes of events like this are many. Despite the amount of work that goes into planning and running these events, the end result is usually worth the investment. Inviting the public to tour your farm brings people closer to agriculture. Ninety percent of our population in the United States is two to three generations removed from farming. For many, one travels to the grocery store and purchases their food off the shelves or out of the coolers. The public has little to no idea what it takes to grow or manufacture our food. So what? Do I want to tour a car manufacturer? No, not really; I just want a car that runs well and is functional. I don’t need to know what goes on inside the plant.
But there is a difference between the car I purchase and the food I eat. I can survive without a car, although my life would drastically change and be more difficult. I cannot survive without food. It is important to make certain we continue to grow enough food in the United States to feed our people, and, for that matter, much of the world. Misunderstanding and lack of knowledge are making it much more difficult for agriculture to grow what we need to eat, profitably.
Events like the “Farm and Food Weekend” help re-establish a connection between agriculture and the people we feed. Knowing who grows your food serves to reassure the public that our food is safe. And when regulations are proposed by local, state, and federal governments, like regulating the amount of dust a farm produces, or regulating the number of openings a barn may have in it, the public understands better and sometimes takes action when farmers are seen trying to fight the stupidity that threatens our food supply.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.