Meet Your Farmer…and Buy Their Food!

MeetYourFarmer1People in the Lehigh Valley are passionate about the “good food movement” (a phrase we learned recently and will add to our lexicon).

So passionate that they braved icy temperatures Monday night to come  to the Nurture Nature Center‘s “Meet Your Farmer” event — organized by Lynn Prior of Buy Fresh By Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley — to talk about the process of getting locally grown foods from farms to farmers’ markets and restaurants.

The standing room only crowd spent an hour listening to a three person  panel discuss the challenges and benefits of the farm-to-table  movement, and then got a chance to sample some locally grown  delicacies.

The panel included Bolete chef Lee Chizmar, Berks County farmer Tim  Stack, and Andrew Puglia, procurement manager of the Common Market food hub in Philadelphia.

The event gave us a lot to digest, but we want to start with community supported agriculture, or CSA.

CSAs, farm shares, and buying clubs are all ways for you to get fresh, locally grown food directly from a farmer. There are 19 of them in and around the Lehigh Valley.

With a CSA, you’re basically subscribing to a farm. You buy a membership in the farm before the season begins, and get a box of seasonal produce each week during the growing season.

The keyword here is seasonal, meaning now is the time to sign up. Most farm shares, CSAs and buying clubs operate from around June through October and November, allowing you to get the produce (or in some cases, meat, eggs and dairy products) you want each week straight from the farm.

The Rodale Institute, one of our partners in the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, has a farm share program that operates on a pay-as-you-go basis. Visit their website to sign up.

Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley has more information on the difference between CSAs, farm shares and buying clubs, as well as a list of local operations.

Some other key points from Monday night:

  • The demand for local food is growing. Stack, who owns Eckerton Hill Farm in Berks County, says he couldn’t have made a living on just selling locally 20 years ago. Now, he grows over 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including 100 kinds of heirloom tomato (The farm’s website bills them as “The Tomato People.”) Not bad for a business that has its roots in a rooftop garden.
  • The supply is there too, and there’s room for even more growth. Even in the dead of winter, Bolete is able to have seasonal produce from seven local farms on its menu, and Chizmar says he could always use more. Puglia said Common Market is looking for everything from kale to strawberries.
  • If you’re a local farmer, Common Market wants to work with you, but that doesn’t mean they take just any farm. Puglia wants to try to sign up as many Lehigh Valley farms as he can to provide healthy, locally grown foods to Sodexo. But there are certain factors he’s looking for: consistency of product, the ability to deliver (literally, as in driving your food in on a truck), and the ability to produce enough for institutional use. He’s also looking at farms that have gotten GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification or are at least considering/on their way to getting it.

It was a satisfying discussion, and there’s still a lot more to talk about. If you want to get involved in the conversation, join us Monday, March 30 for another Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council lunch/discussion on growing our local food economy.

This event will explore starting and scaling up food and beverage businesses as well as a look at the possibilities of commercial kitchen incubators. Join us for a locally sourced lunch and the ongoing  discussion from noon to 2 p.m. at the Fowler Center, 511 E. 3rd St., Bethlehem. Click here to reserve your spot.

Posted on February 26, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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