Over the past several weeks, I’ve had some great conversations with family farmers engaged in direct marketing activities in New York City. Of particular interest are the farmers selling direct to city residents through farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs (CSAs). In every conversation I’ve had, I’ve heard the same message: Farmers markets, CSAs and other direct marketing activities are the lifeblood of family farmers struggling to survive on the urban fringe.
Zaid Kurdieh, of Norwich Meadows Farm, got right to the point when I talked with him on a recent Saturday at his farmstand in the Greenmarket at Tompkins Square Park.
“Without the Greenmarket, I’d be out of farming,” he said. Kurdieh is also heavily involved in New York City-based Just Food’s CSA program. Farm Aid has been a long-time funder of Just Food’s work to bring family farm raised food to underserved communities in New York, and we’re extremely proud of our association with them and their achievements.
John Gorzynski, who sells fresh produce grown at Gorzynski Ornery Farm several days a week at the Greenmarket in Union Square, had a similar story:
“It makes all the difference,” he said as he stepped up onto his truck to haul down a case of fresh leaf lettuce.
Stewart Borowsky, who is the first farmer I’ve ever met who harvests his crop with scissors, depends on the economic opportunity created by the Union Square Greenmarket to vend fresh wheat grass. Borowsky raises his crop in Brooklyn and says direct marketing is the cornerstone of his farm/business plan.
More and more farmers all the time are taking advantage of direct marketing opportunities. There are now 327 farmers markets and 127 CSA programs operating in New York state. In New York City, 76 farmers markets are operating—16 of them are open year round. Nationally, it’s clear there is an explosion of interest in farmers markets. A recent study by the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program reveals a 1,200 percent increase in the number of farmers markets since 1970. Last year, there were 4,385 markets operating.
This tremendous growth is attributable to an amazing shift in the way people are thinking about and buying their food. We’re realizing that fresh food tastes better, and we’re finding ways to get it right from family farmers. Farmers are more than happy to join in. For many farmers, direct sales are a way to boost their bottom line while avoiding the discouraging prospect of selling their food wholesale, where they sometimes have to sell at or below the cost of production. At Farm Aid, we view this shift in thinking and action as part of the Good Food Movement that is growing at an astonishing pace, creating real economic opportunity for family farmers and helping to ensure that all of us can obtain fresh, locally produced food.