By Jan Rhodes Norman
This past year’s record level of droughts, floods, freezes and fires, has brought home the vulnerability of our national food system and how it impacts us closer to home.
We are fortunate to live in a region that has gotten a head start on rebuilding our local food system, but we still have more to do to create a healthy, equitable food system for all.
One of the pioneers in our region has been the Ithaca Farmers Market. Started in the summer of 1973 by a handful of farmers and craftspeople, the Ithaca Farmers Market led the way in bringing fresh, local food direct from farmer to consumer.
Originally a small, seasonal market, the IFM has since grown into an award-winning enterprise with a year-round presence, hundreds of members and 5 weekly markets during peak season. After moving around for the first 15 years, the IFM settled into its permanent home at Steamboat Landing, on the Waterfront, in 1988.
Possibly, one of the greatest contributions of any market is its function as a business incubator. Farmers markets allow farmers to try new varieties and get valuable customer feedback. They also encourage the startup of new farms, as farmers see the viability of outlets for sales. The explosion of CSAs has also been a factor in encouraging new farm start-ups.
Recent years have seen the growth and commitment of the local food movement with innovative farm training programs like Groundswell and TC3’s Farm to Bistro program, and local processing of shelf stable, value added products like cider vinegar, tomato sauce, apple sauce and fresh ground flour.
For a strong, local food system to be viable, there needs to be a place for everyone at the table. Especially important are programs like Healthy Food For All, a non-profit partnership of local farms and CCE Tompkins that makes fresh produce accessible to low-income families, the Fresh Snack Program, a farm-to-school program that provides fresh, locally grown produce to classrooms and Project Growing Hope’s Community Garden, where community members can rent a plot for the season and grow their own produce.
If you’re looking for more reasons to support our local food system, here’s a top 10 list from Strolling of the Heifers, producers of the annual, 50 state ranking, “Locavore Index.”
Eating locally …
1) Supports local farms: Buying local food keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs at farms and in local food processing and distribution systems.
2) Boosts local economy: Food dollars spent at local farms and food producers stay in the local economy, creating more jobs at other local businesses.
3) Less travel: Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.
4) Less waste: Because of the shorter distribution chains for local foods, less food is wasted in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.
5) More freshness: Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore, loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage.
6) New and better flavors: When you commit to buy more local food, you’ll discover interesting new foods, tasty new ways to prepare food and a new appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.
7) Good for the soil: Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on monoculture – single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
8) Attracts tourists: Local foods promote agri-tourism – farmers’ markets and opportunities to visit farms and local food producers help draw tourists to a region.
9) Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms survive and thrive, keeping land from being redeveloped into suburban sprawl.
10) Builds more connected communities: Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods. As customers of CSAs and farmers markets have discovered, they are great places to meet and connect with friends as well as farmers.
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This is the latest installment of the Signs of Sustainability series produced by Sustainable Tompkins. Jan Rhodes Norman is owner of Ithacamade and Silk Oak, and the co-founder of Local First Ithaca.