Jul 15 2011

Good Food and Big Smiles at Farmers’ Market

Margaret WaldockThe opening day of the Hunterdon Land Trust Farmers’ Market this year was a grey late-spring day, the kind that makes you impatient and antsy for the sun. As I helped the farmers set up, my feet were wet despite my supposed waterproof boots and a drizzle coated every surface, a film of damp pervading my core. But I was smiling. In fact, standing in that wet, freshly mowed field, I could barely contain my joy at seeing the farmers’ stalls offering “green” in every shade imaginable, in the form of spinach and kale and newly sprouted plants, bearing the promise of bright colors and sweet, snappy flavor to come.

When the Hunterdon Land Trust launched this market four years ago some questioned why an organization focused on preserving land in Hunterdon County would get involved in a venture like this. Was the land trust getting off mission? Once the market started it became very clear that this was exactly what was needed to complement our farmland preservation efforts.

Protecting productive farm soils from the immediate threat of sprawling development is easier said than done in the country’s most densely populated state. Preservation provides farmers with an alternative to selling their land to developers and means they are more likely to stay in New Jersey. But the financial return that comes from selling their development rights often isn’t enough to keep a farm in production. Farming is hard work. It’s a business that’s dependent upon the weather, and is vulnerable to new suburban neighbors, unaccustomed to the sounds, sights and smells of farming. Our market gives farmers a place to connect with customers and helps keep farming economically viable. Farmers’ markets also provide a place for people to experience the seasonality and diversity of local agriculture and gain appreciation for the importance of local food, which in turn builds support for farmland preservation.

The market is entering its 5th season and attendance has grown, with more and more people like you, curious about what this local food movement is all about, exploring foods you might not otherwise try: garlic scapes, kohlrabi, kale—and those more traditional Jersey offerings—sweet corn, blueberries, and the pride of the Garden State, the Jersey tomato.

By shopping at a local farmers’ market you are supporting local farmers and helping foster a new movement in agriculture. There is growing awareness of the value in supporting local farms. The closer our food is grown to where we live, the less it costs to transport and store. When you buy directly from a farmer, you are keeping your food dollars in your local community, not sending them off to some offshore corporate bank account.

So, when you are conversing with your neighborhood farmer at your local farmers’ market about the multitude of ways to prepare kale, consider this: making the effort to buy your food close to home means you are helping ensure that farms and farming families remain in your community, and you are creating a healthy and secure food future for the Garden State. Then look around at all the gorgeous, local food and just try to wipe the smile off your face.

This post originally appeared at the Dodge Foundation blog

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