Reaping What We Sow
Preparing for a Rich Harvest of Local Natural Foods
by Reid Boyer and Michelle BenseWe are what we eat. Simple, yet profound, it means eating healthy foods leads to enjoying a healthy life. Though we are aware of this absolute truth, current lifestyles reflect convenience and rock-bottom prices at the expense of our health, environment and local farming heritage. As a society, we have globalized our diets at the cost of the extinction of numerous plant species and burdened our environment with fertilizers, pesticides and the impact of transporting food from all points of the globe.
As difficult as it is to know where our food comes from, it is virtually impossible to know how it is produced. According to FoodRoutes.org, “Food travels on average 1,300 miles from farm to table and fruits and vegetables shipped from distant states and countries can spend as many as seven to 14 days in transit before arriving in the supermarket.”
Ripening agents, preservatives, growth hormones and antibiotics are used to increase the yields of the foods in our supermarket produce aisles, meats cases, dairy coolers and fast food restaurants. Meanwhile, our local farmers are having a difficult time keeping their farms profitable and out of the control of development. Is there any way we can make sound nutritional decisions while supporting our local farming community and the environment we live in? The answer is yes, and by consciously selecting from available options, consumers can improve their diet while strengthening our local food-producing community.
Saving Local Farmland Means Saving Local Farmers
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. has lost 4.7 million farms since 1935. In Pennsylvania, we face a sobering reality—development is outpacing preservation. If farmland continues to disappear at a rate of more than 200 acres a day, Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy is in jeopardy.
A report by the USDA’s National Commission on Small Farms states that “as farmers focused on producing undifferentiated raw commodities, food system profit and opportunities were shifted to the companies that process, package and market food. Consequently, from 1910 to 1990 the share of the agricultural economy received by farmers dropped from 21 to 5 percent.” The other 95 percent of food costs now goes to brokers, truckers, packers, processors, marketers and retailers. There is only one way to truly preserve farmland as farmland in perpetuity. That is to make farming profitable. The small farmer must be creative and diversify in unique ways if they are going to survive.
Here in Bucks and Montgomery counties, there’s a growing fraternity of local food providers that have discovered the growing market of health conscience consumers wanting to know the source of their food and demanding healthier food options.
Bucks and Montgomery counties would not be the same without the many farms that dot the rolling hills of the area. Family-owned and operated by Brenda Slack, Milk House Farm practices sustainable agricultural methods. With 120 acres of vegetables, fruit, corn, grains and more, Slack grows vegetables without the use of pesticides and using mostly organic seeds. Slack sells her produce and more at Milk House Farm Market, in Newtown.
Animals have always been an integral part of small farms. Before the days of mass-produced meats, grassfed animals were raised in pastures in a natural, more humane environment. Hershberger Heritage Farm, in Chalfont, aims to provide grass-fed or pastured, antibiotic and hormone-free chicken to customers by using rotational grazing practices and non-GMO verified poultry feed.
Roots to River Farm, in New Hope, is focused on organically growing heirloom selections and producing year-round for farmers’ markets, restaurants and its CSA program. The farm grows over 250 varieties of vegetables without pesticides or chemicals, as well as flowers.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
CSA members pay a lump sum advance for a share of the harvest and receive a weekly basket of the freshest quality fruits and vegetables available. Farmers can count on a reliable cash flow and steady market. Excess products sell well in local farmers’ markets or may be sold at wholesale. The community benefits from preservation of open space, barriers to commercial sprawl and environmentally friendly stewardship. Consumers know first-hand the safe origin of their food.
Vegetables are the most common CSA crops. Fruits are popular, too. Additional products can include eggs, flowers, herbs, honey, maple syrup, beef and firewood. A landowner, farmer or manager may designate all or a portion of a parcel to a CSA program. Most employ organic practices, though not all are certified.
Though local CSAs, as across the country, vary widely in size, philosophy, social agreements, business strategies and legal structure, all work to contribute to farm preservation, stability and profitability. Some local CSAs include Blooming Glen Farm, Roots to River Farm, Living Hope Farm, Tinicum CSA, Hershberger Heritage Farm, Anchor Run Farm and Fields Without Fences, which now offers a medicinal herb CSA program.
The Bucks and Montgomery area is fortunate to have farmers’ markets across the area, selling locally grown vegetables, fruits and pastured meats, available during all times of year. While providing a great service to our community by making local, fresh foods more easily accessible, they can often also be fun family events, offering entertainment and the chance to meet the producers of the food we’ll eat.
Family-owned and operated for over 100 years, Tanner Brothers Dairy Farm, famous in the area for its fresh milk and homemade ice cream, sells its dairy products, farm-raised Angus steaks, fruit and produce at its year-round market, in Ivyland. Bucks kids young and old have fond memories of watching the cows behind the fence while eating a Tanner ice cream cone.
Other local farmers’ markets include Doylestown, Wrightstown, Lansdale, Glenside, Perkasie, Ottsville and Langhorne. Most run between May or June through October and are held weekly on different days.
Natural Food Stores
While most natural food stores offer a tremendous diversity of natural products from groceries, herbs, personal care and vitamins from natural food distributors, stores like Bunn’s Natural Foods, in Southampton, also support local farmers by selling locally grown, organic produce.
The real strength of any natural food store is the expertise of the staff. Most owners and operators are extremely knowledgeable about the benefits of food and herbs and can provide information about the advantages of organic and natural food.
Perhaps because natural food is such a simple concept, it is easy to forget how important it is to our health. We are fortunate to live in a farming community that is strong enough to be bucking the trend of mass-produced food. We are also lucky to have knowledgeable experts and creative minds to help get healthy, natural foods to the marketplace.
If it is to be, it is up to us to support efforts that keep us healthy, help our environment and preserve our heritage. As spring arrives, we have a choice about the type of food sources we want to support. Vote with your dollars. Spend them with producers and merchants that value their customers’ health above the profits of industrialized farming and products that are created in a laboratory.
Reid Boyer is the publisher of Natural Awakenings of Lehigh Valley. Connect with him at [email protected].
Michelle Bense is a freelance writer and managing editor of Natural Awakenings BuxMont. Connect with her at [email protected]. April 2015.