Support local growers, markets - Press-Republican: Columns

Support local growers, markets

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Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012 3:24 am

Freshly picked vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, homemade baked goods, local grass-fed and finished meats, free-range chickens and eggs, jams and jellies, cheeses, maple syrup, honey, snack foods, fruit juices, wines and liquors; all this and more, all local, and all on sale at farmers markets across the North Country.

When you shop at local farmers markets, everybody wins. As a customer, you get to select from the freshest, finest and the best local produce and prepared foods money can buy. You can feel good knowing that you’re buying locally grown and prepared wholesome, nourishing food, which tastes better and is more nutritious than that picked before it’s ripe and transported across the continent or halfway around the world. Besides, it’s fun to meet the growers. They’ll appreciate your feedback. They’re your neighbors. You can talk with them, share thoughts and concerns, ask questions, and get closer to the source of the food you’re buying.

We’re living in an age of global markets and marketing, of distance and being disconnected. It’s all too easy to lose touch with the efforts and the productivity of our area’s growers. But, shopping at the farmers market supports local growers and keeps money circulating within the community. A purchase also promotes productive use and the preservation of our land, water and agricultural heritage for future generations.

The tradition of farmers markets can be traced to ancient times when marketplaces were the centers of villages and towns. Not only were they places people gathered to buy, barter and trade, they were places where people met to exchange news and share stories.

Farmers markets have deep roots in our history, too. By many accounts, they have existed as a part of American society since the 1700s. In fact, throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, outdoor marketplaces were the heart of our cities and centers of commerce in rural communities. The Central Market, in Lancaster, Pa., has been held in the same location since the 1730s. George Washington wrote about sending his kitchen staff to shop at Philadelphia’s outdoor market during the 1790s, and Thomas Jefferson wrote, in 1806, about buying beef, eggs and vegetables at an outdoor market in Georgetown.

During the 20th century, everything changed. More and better roads were built. And as more modern methods of refrigeration were invented, it became possible to transport produce from large commercial farms to centers thousands of miles away. Wholesalers took advantage of opportunities to place fruit and vegetables produced by large commercial growers into neighborhood supermarkets and chain and convenience stores, all owned by even larger corporations. The local market all but disappeared and the small farmer found himself less and less able to compete.

Farmers markets began making a comeback in the 1960s and ‘70s, probably partly due to the back-to-the-land movement, a North American counter-cultural phenomenon that gave preference to self-sufficiency and local food production. In recent years, as concerns about food safety and sustainable energy have increased, interest in locally produced food has continued to build and farmers markets are enjoying an upsurge in popularity.

Early in the 21st century, things appear to have come full circle. Farmers markets are increasing in popularity in all 50 states. As of mid-2011, according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, there were 7,175 farmers markets throughout the United States, a 17 percent increase from 2010. And Americans now spend billions of dollars annually at farmers markets.

Farmers markets are now open for the season all over the North Country. To the best of my knowledge, there are farmers markets in Akwesasne, the Ausable Valley, Canton, Chateaugay Lake, Elizabethtown, Keene, Keeseville, Long Lake, Lowville, Malone, Massena, Norwood, Plattsburgh (two locations), Paul Smiths, Port Henry, Potsdam, Saranac Lake, Schroon Lake, Speculator, Ticonderoga, Tupper Lake, Wadhams and Wilmington. And I’m sure there are some I’ve missed. All are open on different days and at different times. Information can be found at the following websites:

Or contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

Your local farmers market is a place where people can come together, not just to buy and sell food, but to share gardening tips and ideas, recipes and seasonal information. The customer gets the freshest, highest quality food and the grower makes some money. There are no middlemen or stockholders, just local, independent growers selling their own produce and value-added products direct to the public.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, horticulture, natural resources, energy; agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email



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