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Yadkin Riverkeeper: Buy local, support small farms during the pandemic

By Brian Fannon

If trips to the supermarket are stressing you out these days, consider that your next food run could take you to a place with open air, a spring breeze and a gravel parking lot: a farm.

While large pork and poultry producers are signaling production cuts due to the pandemic, our local farms still have food. These small farms aren’t reliant on large processing facilities, where workers stand shoulder to shoulder or on our overtaxed transport infrastructure. On-farm pickups are available throughout the area and offer a pleasant trip to pick up groceries. Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s website offers an excellent local map called the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association on-farm pickup map.

Looking back in history, we see that local food production in countries like postwar France provided both food and economic stability in a time of crisis, allowing the country to recover much faster than predicted because it already had the single most necessary item: Food. 

I spent the first six years of my life in Surry County, just outside of Mt Airy, and my parents had a small farm in addition to being teachers. Later, we moved back to family land in Avery County to restart my great grandfather’s farm (I will never forget the smell of rotting cabbage). We ate mostly food from the farm and garden, and grocery store trips were twice-a month outings to get staples. In the late 1980s, I spent some time in France, where we seldom ate pre-packaged meat; everyone bought a day or two’s worth from the local butcher’s shop, meat that was raised within a few miles of the town. Locally-grown vegetables came from the market in the town center. It wasn’t exactly like living on the farm, but the food was fresh and local, not dependent on refrigeration and long-distance transportation.

Fresh and local is a pretty good model. It worked well for our ancestors, and we may have some good reasons to go back to it. 

In the U.S. and many industrialized countries, “efficiency” has become solely defined in monetary terms, while the efficiencies of life — such as food supply — have taken a back seat. Local production may not be the most efficient system if you define efficiency solely in monetary terms, but it is the most efficient system for food security and local economies. 

Corporate efficiency is very different from human efficiency. What we’re seeing now is that industrial-scale food production — monetary efficiency — has vulnerabilities that small family farms don’t. Human efficiency is about quality of life and community well-being: The money that we spend with local farmers stays local instead of going out-of-state or out-of-country. Our community has secure food and more financial resources when local farmers provide our food. That human model of efficiency, that security, is most important to me.

Local farmers have another advantage: Most own the land they farm and they view themselves as stewards, preserving and protecting both land and water for future generations. As an advocate for clean water, I’ve found good partners in local family farms. 

So, if you’re looking for a way to stock up without stressing out, a call (or online visit) to order ahead for a pickup is a great option. If you don’t want to drive out to a farm, consider one of the local farmers markets as an option. Either way, you may find buying from your local farmer to be a pleasant (and tasty) surprise.

Brian Fannon is the Yadkin Riverkeeper.

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