There is something about fall that is truly endearing on every level. The combination of warm, soft sweaters; the sound of leaves blowing across the ground; the smell of chill in the air; and the inherent comfort in the foods that call the season home don’t hurt. Of that I am sure. But for small farmers and local growers the season signifies something greater than even these material comforts.
Fall, for farmers, is the end of an era. It is a time of hard work as is every season, but it’s also a time of reflection, of examining what worked and what did not. It’s a time of tweaking systems. A time of extending harvest, milking the earth for just a few more weeks of production. More than all of this however, it’s a time of loss. Of saying goodbye.
For many small farmers a large portion of their relationships are made and maintained at the local farmer’s market. When fall sets in, crops stop producing, and the markets close for the cold season ahead customer bases disappear. Relationships are pushed to the rear, shelved to collect dust until the following spring.
During the warmer months when markets are open and crops fruitful most of us are aware of the importance of diligent relationship fostering with our local farmers, but when the frost sets in how can we continue what we started?
For starters, ask about product availability. Some of your favorite farms may have year-round local foodstuffs available for purchase. Hens, for instance, can lay eggs even in the winter — beautiful and fresh like those above laid by my own hens. Potatoes, winter squashes, apples, garlic and the like store well in a good root cellar. You may not have the space, but your grower may. It doesn’t hurt to ask. It could make the difference between eating well and just eating this winter, after all.
Consider giving back. To be clear, no farmer expects a thank you gesture, but once received I’m sure they’re appreciated all the same. Did you make a killer batch of jam with those strawberries you purchased back in June? Your farmer probably wouldn’t mind having a taste of your recipe. Share a jar! Small, local farmers love seeing the fruits of their labor put to good use — what could be better than tasting that which their favorite families are eating? And if you’re feeling very giving, throw in a Thank You card for good measure.
Volunteer. Ask if you can pitch in with fall clean-up, composting and fertilizing or chicken coop winterizing. This is especially fun for suburban and urban families with children who would never have such an experience otherwise. There is always work to be done on a farm and everyone benefits when more hands make work light. Growers get much needed help without breaking their — trust me, strapped — bank and you get a hands-on look at just where that food you’ve been chowing comes from.
We gift our mail carriers, our children’s teachers, their principles, our hair dressers, our neighbors, but because the farm market has long been closed we often forget our farmers. Don’t overlook growers during the holidays! Before you say good bye for the season ask for your growers’ contact information and send a card. Or a gift basket.
Reach out, stay connected, enrich the local food scene!