Sunday, May 6, 2012

Grow Local, Shop Local, Eat Local

I wish all food looked this good.
The Mercury  reported recently about a "Buy Local" campaign being conducted in Pottstown in cooperation with PDIDA and the employees of the Pottstown School District.

Which is good news. More than a one-day "cash mob," a month long effort with a large group of people is much more sustainable and will have a much larger impact.

But there is another kind of "Buy Local" effort that cannot take place in any downtown in the greater Pottstown area -- because it's on farms.

Confused? Let me explain.

Recently, Dulcie Flaharty, executive director of Montgomery County Lands Trust, made a presentation to the Pottstown Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Commission about the economic value of open space.

Her presentation was based on a report "The Economic Value of Protected Open Space," produced by the Greenspace Alliance and the Delaware County Regional Planning Commission.

(I reported about that report in The Mercury in late 2010. Click on the link if you would like to learn more on that subject.)

The Collegeville Farmer’s Market, seen here, will open Saturday.
Times Herald File Photo.
But Flaharty also brought along a brochure that I found intriguing. It was titled "Shop Local Save Land."

It is, quite simply, "a guide to farms and farm markets in Montgomery County."

(If you would like to see the full pamphlet on line, click here.)

I was pleased to discover there are nearly 60 working farms in Montgomery County and 15 large-scale farm markets, including Pottstown's at 300 E. High St.

There are also two in Collegeville, the Collegeville Farmer's Market at 460 E. Main St.; and the Longview Center for Agriculture Market, at 3215 Stump Hall Road.

And, as The Mercury reported yesterday, the Collegeville Farmer's Market opened for the season on Saturday.

Farmer's Daughter Farm Market outside Spring City
Of course, there are plenty of farm stands and farm markers in Chester and Berks counties as well.

Wilcox Farm, located at 1134 Reading Ave. outside Boyertown has hayrides, ice cream and corn mazes as well as a delectable selection of vegetables.

And Farmer's Daughter, off Route 724 (3190 Schuylkill Road) outside Spring City has been named "Best Farmer's Market" by Mercury readers in The Mercury's Reader Choice Awards a remarkable eight times. (I know from experience it also has a remarkable selection of homemade jams and jellies.)

Easements allow farms to
keep being farms
"Farming families, whether new to the business of long-standing, preserve a way of life, while working landscapes provide fresh and healthy food for today and future generations, the pamphlet observes.

But although the bursting of the housing bubble has slowed development, it remains true that much of the best local farmland continues to be under the threat of development, notes MCLT's pamphlet.

Which is why they seek to preserve those properties by purchasing the development rights, called "easements" from the owners, providing needed income and capital and preserving the farm without requiring the farmer's to actually sell the land.

But for these businesses to thrive, we need to buy their products. The plus side is, buying "ultra fresh" produce is good for you

One way that works is through something called CSA, or "Community Supported Agriculture," the idea is that you buy "shares" of a farmer's harvest ahead of time and then just come and pick up your fresh local produce every week.

The advantages for farmers are several:
  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm's cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow 
Your box of fresh CSA produce might look like this.
The advantages for consumers are many as well:

  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Find that kids typically favor food from "their" farm – even veggies they've never been known to eat
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

I know the part about "getting exposed to new vegetables" to be true through personal experience. Last year my mother-in-law belong to a CSA near her home in New York State and I ate turnips and brussel sprouts (out of politeness at first) that were among the most delicious things I had ever tried.

Mercury Photo by John Strickler
The ribbon gets cut at Pottstown's Community Garden Friday
As it turns out, fresh and properly cooked makes a world of difference in taste as well as nutrition.

The other advantage, if you care about such things, is that local food has a smaller carbon footprint. Strawberries from Chile have to get here somehow and most often, getting them here involves burning fossil fuels.

Although you might take your car to get to a local farm, it's doubtful you would use as much fuel as those Chilean strawberries. And, luckily, I'm sure there is a CSA near you.

If you need to find a CSA near you, you can check this site, called "Local Harvest." Just type in your zip code and find not only CSA farms, but local farm stands near you. I typed in "19464" and found more than 10 around Pottstown, from Trappe to Boyertown to East Coventry.

Of course, you can always grow your own.

Getting the plots ready at the community garden.
But if you're not of green thumb, or you're someone who eschews the solitary nature of farming, you can always lease a plot in the Mosaic Community Land Trust's community garden on Chestnut Street in Pottstown.

On Friday those folks had their official ribbon cutting for the garden, located at 423 Chestnut St., which we covered

As we reported in The Mercury Wednesday, the final day to register for a plot is Saturday, May 12 and you had better hurry as Sue Repko, the land trust's executive director, told me recently that there are only a few slots left.

You can contact her at 609-658-9043 and see if there are any left.

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