Eight Ways to Support Your Local Farms
The number of small-scale, family-owned farms—harvesting fruits and vegetables or humanely raising livestock for meat—has grown in the last few years. Of the country's 2.2 million farms, nearly 96% are operated by families, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service's Census of Agriculture "A great way to support farms is to care about food day to day," says Alanna Rose, co-owner of Cairncrest Farm, a grass-fed beef, pastured pork and organic-chicken farm in West Winfield, New York. "That could mean cooking a rack of lamb for a special dinner or appreciating a breakfast of fresh eggs and toast with plenty of butter. The more you appreciate the deep nourishment good food can provide, the more you're going to care about where it comes from."
Relationships with the farmer make all the difference, too, "especially when it's more of the artisanal variety," says Vincent Ricchiuti, fourth-generation owner of ENZO's Table, a grower of fruits, almonds, and nuts in Fresno, California; they turn those crops into pesto, jams, and estate-grown organic olive oil. "You recognize the craft that goes into that product versus something that might be randomly bought on the grocery-store shelf. You know how it's made and who made it."
Here are eight ways to support and connect with farms.
Join a CSA.
Signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) subscription—with weekly or bi-weekly deliveries throughout the season—helps a farmer know how much to plant. "A CSA really allows farmers to be planful about their investment," says Laura Phoenix, executive director of Farm Table Foundation in Wisconsin. "They get the money up front. It takes some risk out of the equation."
Attend a harvest or culinary event.
Come autumn, farms open their doors even wider with on-site events. "Our harvest party (first Saturday in October) is not so much a way to get labor and help on the farm but to thank the community who help us all season," says Joe Marcoline, co-owner of Taos Hum Hot Sauce in Taos, New Mexico, where certified-organic chile peppers are grown and then roasted in small batches before turned into hot sauce.
Shop the farm stand (or farmers' market).
Whether you're scooping up butterleaf lettuce and heirloom tomatoes from a farm stand or at a farmers' market, you're supporting your local farms. "[Farmers' markets] foster a direct relationship between eater and grower, a relationship that is … a hundred times removed in our modern lives," says Katie Kriner, manager of Atlanta's Ponce City Farmers Market. "For eater and grower to meet one another and have a conversation is priceless."
Niche Brislane, owner of Stag Valley Homestead in Max, Nebraska, couldn't agree more: "The best way you can support local farmers is to shop their local farmers' markets for home-grown vegetables," she says. "Many farmers depend on the farmer's-market sales to bridge the gap between selling to large producers."
Can't get to a farm stand or farmers' market? You'd be surprised by how many farms sell through their websites. When you "buy from producers directly, even from their websites, you know they're getting the full value of the dollar you're giving them, as opposed to a grocery store," says Ricchiuti. Cairncrest Farm ships grass-fed and organic meat (from boneless pork chops to breakfast sausages) nationwide through its website. "Buying direct from small farmers is obviously a great way to support them," says Cairncrest Farm co-owner Garth Brown, "since it ensures that the money actually goes to the people who have raised the food rather than a middleman. It takes more effort than buying from a grocery store, but it really does help more than anything else."
Take a tour.
Out of a desire to be fully transparent, farmers encourage you to ask lots of questions about their operation. What better place to do just that than on a tour? (Be sure to check with the farm about specific days and times before visiting.) "I'm in a pretty rural area, so I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to come walk around my farm with me," says Brown. "It makes the purpose of my farm a lot less abstract when I get to visit with a real person."
Stay connected on social media.
If you want to know the latest about events or products, follow your favorite farms on Facebook or Instagram, or subscribe to their e-newsletters. Via this direct relationship, "we're [also] able to give direction on how to use [the] product," says Ricchiuti, who posts details on social media about food trucks parked outside their Clovis, California, store each weekend.
Dine at a farm-to-table restaurant.
Diners expect restaurant menus to fold in locally-grown ingredients, but is it authentic or greenwashing? "Having a couple of names of farms on the wall is not the same," says Phoenix. Eighty percent of the food on her non-profit restaurant's menu is grown within 40 miles. Erin Wade, owner/founder of Vinaigrette restaurants in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas, operates a small organic produce farm in Nambe, New Mexico, that supplies the menus. Eating at restaurants that continually support local, small-scale farms ensures farm-to-table comes "full circle," she says.
Spend the night.
A lesser-known way to support a farm is to book an overnight stay, putting money directly into the farmers' pockets. Pitch a tent or reserve a glamping tent through farms listed on HipCamp. Or opt for a full-service experience: The Barn in Mirror Lake in Mondovi, Wisconsin, just unveiled modernized accommodations inside a former silo while Circle M Farm in Blanchardville, Wisconsin, rents vintage trailers.