Some weeks are all nose to the grindstone and then there are periods when we raise our heads up and let the outside world in. This next week is one of those times. Yesterday day we are hosted 21 agricultural extension agents from Florida. Florida is a huge agricultural state but in the “old school”, large scale, let’s ship it around the world way. This group is up here for four days to see, feel and touch our thriving local food system. While all parts of the country are improving as to the numbers of small farms, farmers markets and the infrastructure that supports them, ours here in central North Carolina is really bustling. Not that we don’t have holes in the system that need to be addressed like the poultry processing problem, easier supply of some inputs, and other things; we do have large numbers of viable farms, great markets and strong groups working on making it all happen. This is the second group this spring to come to the area to see how we do it, you might remember the three van loads of agents and farmers from Louisiana that came for the Farm Tour. So if you see a large group moving through market on Saturday you all will know who it is and be proud of all the work we all have done and are doing for local food here in North Carolina.
The second round of events starts next Tuesday when Carlo Petrini the founder of the Slow Food movement arrives in the area for two days of farm tours, dinners and speeches. You all know of our involvement in Slow Food, having twice gone to Italy for the Terra Madre conference and subsequently working with the local chapter on various projects. Touring the country to promote his new book Slow Food Nation , Carlo is coming to launch the lecture series for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). CEFS is the largest research farm in the country doing work on sustainable and organic farming systems and it is here in North Carolina! Betsy and I sit on the Friends of CEFS Board of Advisors and during a meeting last winter we suggested having Carlo Petrini come and speak, never thinking it would happen this quickly. Carlo Petrini is one of the most influential people in Italy and in the world of artisanal food production and local food systems their is no larger figure. Information about his visit can be viewed here . There are three public events that we are involved in. The first is a huge (sold out) picnic being held at Chapel Hill Creamery on Tuesday night where farmers and chefs have been paired to showcase local foods that are in season. We are working with our friend Sara Foster of Foster’s Market in Durham. Betsy is donating all the flowers for this event as well and for the second event on Wednesday evening in Raleigh. A reception for members of Friends of CEFS with Carlo Petrini will be held just before his lecture at 7:00 p.m. which is free and open to the public, this will culminate his visit to the area. Tuesday and Wednesday before these events Carlo and others from the national Slow Food office will be touring farms in the central NC, possibly including ours, just be assured that Betsy has been out on the mower!
Picture of the Week
Tender Baby Swiss Chard
What does local mean? We are having this discussion within the Farmers’ Market right now because what seems fairly simple on the surface is not always so in todays agriculture. The Carrboro Farmers’ Market has the tightest restrictions on this concept of any market we know of in the country. We believe that our strict adherence to the rule that all products must be produced and sold by the original producer and that producer must live and produce them within 50 miles of Carrboro is the key to the great success of the market. In the early days when that meant a farmer planted and tended tomatoes on their farm, within 50 miles, and then brought them, him or herself, to town on Saturday. No middle men, just the farmer on their farm, then you the customer. What makes it complicated is when further processing enters the picture, especially when it is something that takes resources greater than an individual farmer can reasonably manage. Ever since our farmers have begun to produce and sell meat at market these once simple questions have become more complicated. They raise that animal from just a few weeks old (or from birth) some times for years on their pastures. In a perfect world they would then drive it only a few miles to a plant that can process it into not only various cuts but also other products that require further curing or cooking like bacon or sausages. The problem is two fold, one there are only a few processing plants within the 50 mile radius of Carrboro and generally they don’t do any further processing. Two, for the farmer to really make a profit from their animals they have to sell the whole thing, not just the pork chops, that means they really need to further process the rest of the animal.
The current debate is if that further processing isn’t also done within 50 miles then the product shouldn’t be sold at the market. You know 50 is 50 is 50, doesn’t matter what the situation is. One point of view is that those are the rules and the farmer can sell the products that don’t qualify somewhere else. The other point of view is that these are products that are produced within 50 miles of the market by the seller and should be allowed to be sold even if they went off for processing and then came back (we are not talking about sending them to Italy or California, just eastern NC or South Carolina). I guess the question really should be is what does “to produce” mean? Is it that every last step in the process must be done by the farmer or the great majority of it? The difference in the market could mean fewer kinds of products and fewer farmers. It could also result in fewer customers for the rest of the farmers still at market, as some customers would maybe go somewhere else to buy their food, someplace that had a larger choice. To me it is a matter of sustainability, as a member organization we need to make sure that our members are able to operate viable farm businesses as long as it is within our goals and mission. We also need to view the market as a whole and make sure that it is viable too, if we narrow our product line so much as to lose farmers and customers then that is not sustainable either. It is always something new and changing, I would be interested in know what your view of this is as well.
Picture of the Week
A hungry and thirsty turtle helping himself to a Charentais melon
Made it to September, on paper anyway, sure doesn’t feel like it out in the field. August turned out to be one for the record books- the hottest month ever recorded at RDU airport by almost 2 degrees, that is huge as far as weather averages go! 30 days over 90 degrees another record and the second driest August ever. Now can we break the record for the number of days over 90 degrees in one year? It stands at 72, I know we are close. I pulled more water out of the upper pond yesterday and that leaves just one more round until that water hole is dry. With this kind of heat that is about two weeks worth of water left. If it cools off it will be just enough to get us to the end of our season, a little over three weeks away. Almost everyday I am cutting off the irrigation lines to more beds of crops that are just about finished for the season. Betsy is down to about ten beds of flowers now and I have mowed down the rest. On the vegetable side we are soon to be down to eight beds of tomatoes, twenty beds of peppers and and some odds and ends. It is just at half an acre of crops that need water every day when the temperatures are in the 90’s, but that is still just under 3000 gallons a day! Boy am I glad that I am not trying to plant fall crops, except that we do need to get some flowers in the ground for next spring and, of course, we need to get the winter cover crops planted in the next month, not unless some good rains come though.
I want to thank everyone for the feedback on last weeks newsletter about what defines local food. It was as I expected and I am fairly sure that it will be how the Farmers’ Market comes out on the subject in the end. I used the meat example because, for the farmers, it is the most complicated as far as logistics and regulations. I always want to try and solve the most complicated situation first, if possible, because then the simple ones are an easy fit into the new solution. Of course with the increased demand for local products, like meat, it leads processors and suppliers to eventually fill the need, but it takes time and money (and people of vision). Until then I feel the Farmers’ Market should make it possible for it’s members to operate viable businesses without compromising it’s long established goals and rules. As a market we have always been careful about setting precedents because once the horse is out of the barn it is almost impossible to get it back in.
Picture of the Week
Summer Crisp lettuce a miracle of shade cloth and daily irrigation