i read this article a few years ago written by a local farmer in the michigan area that i frequently bump in to at farmers markets. it literally broke my heart. the article is called “the end of the road” and is about the big box retailers selling milk for $1.50 a gallon with a 5 gallon limit. i love a good bargain but the hard truth is that farmers cannot survive by producing milk for that cheap.
my grandparents were dairy farmers and when we were kids we would walk through the fields almost every day in the summer to go visit their farm. in fact i’ll never forget my little brother laughing the cows gave each other piggy back rides. as adults now…. well you get the idea. we learned a lot about life over there. every time we spent the night my grandma would wake us up to witness something giving birth. that is what you get for living in the country. all birth and sex stuff aside it really was a magical way to grow up. but amidst the fun i saw what hard work it was. chores were done pretty much all day. feeding, milking, planting etc. there really wasn’t a lot of time for rest. thinking of all that work… i think this can apply to a lot of areas in agriculture lately. thankfully i feel like a lot of people are starting to wise up, read the labels, search for where their food is coming from and to buy as fresh as possible.
growing up in michigan i know that the abundance of farmers markets and fields is not a luxury that everyone has. nor is paying upwards of $5-$6 for farm fresh milk. but i think if we all just tweak our habits the best we can within our budgets we can make a real impact.
as we are enter into farmer market season here in the midwest i thought i would ask a few friends in the industry about some ways that we can all support our local farmers. here is some of the feedback i got.
- buy direct from a local farmers market – here in michigan they are as popular as churches. I’m pretty sure almost every township has one at least once a week. my favorites to visit are the muskegon, fulton street and holland farmers market. if you are not from michigan you can use this site here to find one closest to you.
- join a CSA – sometimes farmers markets are difficult to get to during the week. if you have a hard time fitting in an extra trip consider joining a local CSA. CSA means community supported agriculture and you have a subscription type relationship setting pickup and selection days. you can search for a local CSA here.
- Buy your garden plants from a local greenhouse – I start a lot of my seeds with the help of a friend but for “fillers” or things I don’t care to grow from seed I try to stop at as many locally owned greenhouses as possible. the plants they grow are going to be good for your region, the closer you shop to your home the better. sometimes farmers markets will have plant starters as well.
- consider buying an animal share for milk – there was a time that i had a share in a goat. yep. i wanted to learn to make goat cheese (mine always sucked) and in order to get un pasteurized milk in the state of michigan you have to “own” part of the animal. So i bought part of a goat and was able to get my share of the milk from the goat once a week.
- look for the local section of your grocery stores – recently a few of our local chains of grocery stores started carrying a locally grown and produced section within their stores with locations of the farms and businesses. when i have to go to a grocery store i typically try and find the ones that support local growers and producers.
- look for you local butcher – there has been a resurgence of local butchers in the grand rapids area and they are fantastic. yes the price is a little more but you will know exactly what farm your meat is coming from and it supports local producers.
just a few small changes in our daily habits will help your neighbor out. and honestly visiting these places might enhance more than just your food quality. local growers are special and so is the time spent visiting them.
what do you think? what are some other ways to support your local farmers?
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