â Outdoor markets gear up for start of season, with farm tours a growing trend By KIM SMITH DEDAM PAUL SMITHS — While winter wears out its welcome in a final few inches of snow, farmers are busy starting seeds.They talked farmers markets and eco-tourism and what's sprouted during a recent symposium at Paul Smith's College.Adirondack Harvest, now a six-county consortium of more than 120 Adirondack producers, plans farmers markets this year in Chateaugay Lake, Elizabethtown, Keene, Malone, Paul Smiths, Saranac Lake, Ticonderoga, Speculator, Warrensburg, Plattsburgh and Wilmington.Elizabethtown's market will be the first to open on May 18.
Three producers-only markets, organized by the Champlain Valley Foodshed Coalition, will open in Lake Placid, Schroon and Keeseville.Lake Placid's market opens June 13.And a producers-only market is planned in Wadhams this year.A producers-only market is exclusive to farmers selling only products from their own farms, nothing trucked in or purchased elsewhere, explained Sam Hendren, who has managed the Lake Placid market for many years, along with crafting artisan cheese at his Clover Mead Farm."It's the most fundamental issue," he said, explaining how peddlers who purchase produce wholesale can create unfair competition for local farmers who harvest fresh, seasonal produce hours before going to market.
The primary reason drawing people to farm marketplaces is the farmers themselves."Customers usually come and buy our products because they want farm-fresh food. They want to know where it comes from," Hendren said.Operating outside the main mindset, he said, involves knowing the local "food shed," its distribution process and growing cycles."My first experience with dairy farming was that it's a slow way to go out of business. The farmers market is the way a small farm builds business."Adirondack Harvest Farmers Market Cooperative is about 85 percent producers-only, allowing farmers to buy products from each other and sell them.But keeping up with what "foodies" want isn't always easy in the northern clime, Hendren said."It's not efficient to grow food up here, I thought, as I was watching ice crack under my tractor tires this morning."Hendren makes and ages cheese now at a substantially larger price per weight for the milk produced on his farm.
The concept of value-added sometimes translates into expanding products and inviting tourists to the farm.The Tucker family has operated a farm in Gabriels for five generations with an eye on seasonal improvements.It began as the Hobart Farm, Steve Tucker said, after his great-great-great-uncle built a dam for the famed hotelier Paul Smith and wondered what to do next.Uncle Hobart bought the farmland and grew food for Paul Smiths Hotel and guides in the 19th century.Today, Tucker farmers still grow about 50 types of vegetables, in addition to the long rows of red, white and blue Tucker Taters. They still supply local restaurants and summer-camp kitchens.Steve said his customers appreciate knowing where their food comes from."I had some buyers say, 'If you can match Sisco's prices, I'll buy from you,' and I said, 'OK, I'll keep my vegetables in the cooler for two weeks and bring 'em to ya.'"
The Tuckers were also one of the first regional farms to add farm tours to a daily routine.Agritourism at Tuckers started as a "pick-your-own" experience on a few acres of strawberries.Bringing people onto the farm helps spread information about where food really comes from, Tom Tucker said."You'd be surprised how many people have no concept of where food comes from. We've showed them how vegetables grow under dirt and that you have to open the pod to find the peas."The reason for the now multi-generational disconnect between people and what they eat, he said, is "cheap food."When quick and easy processing became economical, people lost track of where their food came from."That's the mindset people have gotten into," Tom said.Adirondack Harvest farmers are adding more farm tours to their schedule this year in an effort to both educate and interest people in fresh food.Laurie Davis at Harvest Hill Farm in Willsboro said they've built a farmers market right on the farm."I just wanted to attract anyone who wanted fresh food. But people love to come on the farm. They love to see what we're doing."
Becky Watts of Vermontville attended the symposium and took a minute to tell farmers how important their work is to her family."We go to your farm two or three times a year," she told the Tuckers. "It began when I was at Paul Smiths in an Adirondack farm course and we visited there. We were allowed to take as many small blue potatoes as we could carry, but we had to pick the rocks, too."Watts, with two children now ages 2 and 4, said they will spend two and a half hours at a time rambling around the Tuckers' corn maze."Us in the Tri-Lakes really appreciate what you guys are doing with your farm."
Anita Deming, director of Cornell Cooperative Extension Service in Westport, said one of the primary goals of Adirondack Harvest and the farm cooperative is raw economics."Local food builds community, preserves open space, keeps taxes in check, supports farm families and benefits the future."Fewer than 1 million Americans now claim farming as a primary occupation, she said."Farmers are a vanishing breed. They get less than 10 cents on the retail food dollar. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers get full retail price for their food, which means farm families can afford to stay on the farm."Buying directly from the farm, she said, "you are re-establishing a time-honored connection between the eater and the grower. Knowing the farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the weather and the miracle of raising food. Relationships built on understanding and trust can thrive."
Local produce is better for you, Deming said.
"Produce loses nutrients quickly. Food that is frozen or canned shortly after harvest is actually more nutritious than some 'fresh' produce that has been on the truck or supermarket shelf for a week."Farms also contribute more in taxes than they take in services."For every $1 raised in residential development, governments spend $1.17 in services," Deming said."But for every $1 raised by farm, forest or open space, governments spend 34 cents."Adirondack Harvest, a non-profit organization, was created five years ago with an expressed interest in sustainable farming and expanding the market for locally grown products.Greenhouse tours are planned for late April, with markets and farmstands opening in May and June. Fall Harvest Festival tours will expand into five counties this year.