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Buying meat, produce, and other food directly from local family farms has become popular in recent years, because it supports small local farmers, keeps the money in the community, and cuts down on the amount of gas and energy used to transport food across long distances. Family farms often sell their meat and produce at farmers markets, via farm shares, and even in some grocery stores that try to support local farmers.
Farmers markets are perhaps the easiest way to buy directly from local family farms. Many communities hold farmers markets regularly throughout the growing season, sometimes as often as once a week, usually on the weekends. You should be able to find information about local farmers markets in your community's newsletters or local newspapers, on the city's website, or by calling your local government offices for information.
When you go to the farmers market, you will find many different booths selling a wide variety of foods. Some booths might have fresh produce, whatever is currently in season, while others might have meat or pasta. Still other booths sell fresh-cooked lunches to feed hungry shoppers, or iced drinks to quench their thirst on hot days.
The experience of shopping at a farmers market can vary depending on which farmers market you go to, so be sure to check out several in your area. You might find that certain ones tend to have a better selection of the type of food you are looking for, be it produce, pasta, or freshly baked bread. Other farmers markets may cater more to feeding and amusing patrons.
Another way to buy directly from family farms is to purchase what is known as farm shares, or community supported agriculture. Essentially, you buy a share of the farm's output, and get regular amounts of food during the growing season — whatever is in season at the time. Some family farms may offer different types of shares; for instance, you might be able to choose between a farm share for just vegetables, one for just fruit, or one that offers a combination of both.
Farm shares offer a great way to support family farms because it makes it easier for the owners to gauge the amount of income they will generate throughout the growing season. Considerably less gas is used because the food is not transported first to the farmers market, and then to the buyers' homes; instead, the buyers pick the food up directly from the farm. Some farmers even include delivery in the price of the farm shares, which saves gas and reduces pollution even more, because the farmers are able to plan a route and deliver all the food in one trip.
The popularity of community supported agriculture among "locavores," or people whose diets consist primarily of locally produced foods, means that farm shares are often sold out and may be difficult to obtain. Some people also live in areas where farmers markets are not common. If you have no other options available to you, you may be able to buy locally produced food from organic, community-friendly grocery stores. These purchases won't benefit family farms directly, but they do help to support small, local farming operations as opposed to large corporate farms.
Excellent article. However, some family farms, specifically those that offer shares in their bovine "output" (i.e., milk and cheeses) are being viciously targeted by the federal government because they are selling raw milk products. The federal government is hanging on, ridiculously, to the fallacy that raw milk isn't good to drink, when the exact opposite is true. Share owners in these dairy farms have been targeted, as well. Granted, most of this has been occurring back east, but it's starting to happen on the West Coast as well. Rawesome Foods, in California is one terrifying example. I just want to let as many people know, as possible, that, once again, the Feds are sticking their noses where they don't belong. Remember: Forewarned is forearmed. -- CMM