Press-Republican

October 28, 2013

Support for farmers alive and well

By LAURIE DAVIS, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Press-Republican

---- — Autumn is, of course, the traditional time to celebrate the harvest. This is evidenced by the numerous harvest festivals throughout the North Country during September and October. As a farmer, I always appreciate this time of year. 

Sure, I love the foliage and crisp air as much as (if not more than) the visiting busloads of leaf-peepers. But what I truly relish is the prospect of not growing anything for a few months. I need rest, as does the soil, and winter is the perfect time to recharge.

As Adirondack Harvest coordinator, my autumn work involves lining up farm tours, promoting member events and participating in area festivals. This year brought something new to the region: Farm Aid. I had heard about Farm Aid for years; of course, most of us know about the famous Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp-founded musical tour whose mission is to “keep family farmers on their land.” It seemed a natural fit for Adirondack Harvest to participate this year since the whole gala was coming to Saratoga.

I figured I’d pack up my standard tri-fold display and piles of handouts and set up near other like-minded organizations somewhere near the concert. Not so much. For starters, I was informed that the exhibitor’s Homegrown Village was a “paper-free” zone. Hmmm. There went 90 percent of my display. And I would be required to have two or three entertaining, interactive and educational components. Double hmmm. Then, out of panicky creative thought, came the “Who’s Your Farmer?” mega-map idea.

Juggling foam board, piles of printed paper, a hot glue gun, furring lumber and step ladders, I showed up in the Homegrown Village at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and began to construct. When I was finished, I had a 6-foot by 8-foot map of the northeastern United States with space for other states and countries. On a nearby table, I had piles of brightly colored sticky notes and pens. The goal was to encourage the passersby (25,000 people were expected, a number that made my head spin) to write down the name of a farm or farmer from whom they purchase local food, and then post it on the map in the region of the farm. 

For my other “entertainment,” I ran our documentary, “Small Farm Rising,” on a small screen, plus I donned a heavy felt tomato costume that progressed from comfy to a dizzying sauna-like temperature as the day wore on.

The response to the display was incredible. Before the SPAC gates opened, other exhibitors were already slapping up sticky notes. And after the gates opened? I literally had to get out of the way. There was no room for a large tomato in the throngs of people elbowing each other to make sure their farmers were represented. Some had their pictures taken pointing to the note they had posted, while others took close-up shots of their note. The farmer pride was strong, palpable and made my heart swell. They wanted to talk about their farmers, and many notes included hearts and exclamation points. When it was over, more than 450 unique farms had been posted, representing 27 states and seven countries. 

And off in the distance, I could hear some great music by some pretty famous musicians who care deeply about helping family farms thrive. We are proud of our farmers. Make sure you let your farmer know how you feel. Continue to support our local farms through the off-season. Stock up on produce you can store.

Visit www.adirondackharvest.com to see the farmers we celebrate.

Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: lsd22@cornell.edu.