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Organic family farming

02/20/04 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer has some thoughts about the survival of the family farm, and how the organic movement may help Vermont farmers to thrive.


(Homeyer) I recently attended the Ecological Farming Association's annual conference in Pacific Grove, California - 1,300 farmers, educators and concerned citizens.

A key question being discussed was, "Can the family farm survive?" The answer I heard over and over again was a resounding yes - but only if farmers find market niches that allow them to get a fair price for what they grow. And consumers have to be willing to support them.

The most successful farmers I met at the EcoFarm conference were organic farmers who had found a way to market their produce directly to consumers, by-passing the middlemen and processors.

Organic produce is the fastest growing sector in the food industry, and with good reason. Organic fruits and vegetables are raised without the use of any chemicals, and organic meats also avoid the hormones and antibiotics so commonly used in conventional operations. To many consumers, avoiding chemicals makes sense, and I agree, especially for pregnant women and small children.

One way to get organic, locally grown food is to join a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

Consumers agree to buy a box of freshly picked, organic produce every week for a fixed price. Early in the spring, you might get salad greens, spinach and perhaps some maple syrup. Later come the full range of vegetables, from beans to zucchini.

If the harvest is great, your box is overflowing. In times of drought or flood, your weekly allotment is less. You and the farmers share the risk a little bit. And you're asked to pay some of your summer's produce bill in advance so that farmers have cash in the spring when they need it most.

Costs vary, but $20 to $25 a week usually provides produce for a family of four. Some CSA's also include bread, eggs, milk or meat.

Another way to support local farmers is to buy your produce directly from them at farm stands and farmers markets. Local produce is fresh produce. Why get lettuce from California if someone near you if growing it? Not all local growers are organic, but by meeting your farmers you can speak up and let them know it you want to buy organic produce.

If you're interested in learning more about farming and food issues you might want to attend the annual winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farmer's Association of Vermont. It's tomorrow at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

The conference isn't free, but it's a day long event that offers 30 workshops on gardening and farming, and features a potluck lunch, a bluegrass band, and a theater performance that deals with the issues surrounding genetic engineering -and they even have an indoor farmers's market.

It's not just a gathering of farmers, it's also for gardeners, educators, kids and concerned consumers. And it ends up with an old fashioned ice cream social. It sounds to me like a good cure for cabin fever.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, N.H.

Related links:
NOFA Vermont
Center for CSA Resources
Ecological Farming Association

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.
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