9 Reasons Why You Should Visit a Farm
I am extraordinarily fortunate. You see, I have the privilege of living within 5 miles of a farm. No, I don’t live out in the middle of Nowhere, USA. I live in a sprawling Florida suburb, full of housing developments and strip malls, fast food restaurants and gas stations, just like millions of other people. And it’s not just any farm. It’s a farm that uses organic growing practices, is independently owned and operated by a dedicated husband and wife team, and where I get to pick my own fruits and vegetables.
I discovered my little neighborhood farm, Sundew Gardens, about 2 years ago, although it has been in the same location for over 30 years. I decided to become a member (you have to join to be able to purchase produce) because I wanted access to the freshest and healthiest vegetables I could find. But what I didn’t realize at the time were the numerous other benefits that I have gained by visiting and supporting this local independent farm over the past 2 growing seasons. Below is a list of reasons why I continue to visit this farm on a regular basis, and why you should seek out, visit and support your nearest farms as well.
#1: The Healthiest Produce You Can Ever Find
I know my local farmer personally. And I know exactly how he grows his fruits and vegetables. The reason I know this is because I have watched him do it. I have been inside the greenhouse where he starts his seedlings. I have seen him and his volunteers transplant those seedlings into beds. I know that he only uses non-genetically modified seeds, and only organic methods for fertilization and pest control. He picks green beans and cherry tomatoes straight off the vine and pops them right into his mouth because he knows there is nothing that needs be washed off.
I also know that his chickens are free-range and organic. That’s because I have seen those chickens roam around the parking lot and have had to wait until they were shooed away before I could park. I have watched the chickens peck the earth for worms and grubs, and have seen them eat the “ugly” vegetables from the farm. And as a result, those chickens lay the healthiest eggs. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and have the brightest yolks I have ever seen.
When you can shake hands and have a genuine conversation with the people who grow your food, you have full faith in where that food came from.
#2: The Most Delicious Produce Around
You know those eggs I was just talking about? They don’t only look beautiful, they also taste amazing. I have given them away to friends who have in turn told me they were the best eggs they have ever tasted. Why? Because of the varied natural diet those chickens eat and the healthy stress-free way they are raised.
All the fruits and vegetables taste better, too. Tomatoes that are left on the vine until they ripen are much juicier and sweeter than ones that have to be picked green so that they will be red by the time they get to the grocery store.
#3: Produce that Lasts Much Longer in Your Fridge
If you live in Illinois, the oranges in your local grocery store most certainly came from Florida. The lettuce is inevitably from California. And the grapes may be from as far away as Chile. If you are really lucky, the potatoes came from North Dakota, only 750 miles away. In other words, those fruits and vegetables were picked several days, if not several weeks, before they arrived at a distribution center and eventually made their way to your store.
When you visit a local farm, you either get to harvest the produce yourself, or you get to choose from produce that was harvested that morning or no more than a few days before. You will find that the produce will last much longer than normal, as long as you store it properly. I have had lettuce that has lasted for weeks in my refrigerator, and root vegetables that have lasted for months.
Of course, if you live in Illinois you won’t find oranges or grapes at your local farm. But you will find the freshest items that you can get, which will last longer than anything you can purchase at a store.
#4: Organic Produce at a Fraction of the Cost
We all know that organically grown food (whether it be vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy or grains) is better for us than conventionally grown food, which is not only genetically modified in some cases, but also exposed to fertilizers, pesticides and hormones. Unfortunately this healthier food is invariably more expensive. And while many of us aspire to having a healthier and more nutritious diet, we have to balance that with our budget constraints.
I have often debated whether, given a particular food item, the difference in price is worth it to me. Sometimes with very popular items, like carrots and celery, the price difference may be only 10 or 20 cents per pound. Depending on your situation and how often you buy these items, the additional cost may be manageable to you. However, with meat, eggs and dairy, the price difference can be substantial. Organic eggs can cost twice as much as conventional, and organic beef can cost several dollars more per pound. Sometimes I find it difficult to justify buying these items on a regular basis, as I am sure do many other people.
However, organic produce from a locally owned farm is typically less expensive than what you will see in a grocery store. And when you include the additional benefits you get from locally grown produce, the overall value can really justify the additional cost.
#5: Getting Introduced to Produce You’ve Never Seen Before
This benefit is probably not going to be true at every farm you come across, but depending on how curious and adventurous the farmers and customers are, you may find fruits and vegetables that you can’t readily find at your local store.
Some of the items I have purchased at Sundew Gardens that I would be hard pressed to find at my local grocery store include:
- dinosaur kale
- purple daikon
- sweet potato leaves
- egyptian chives
- edible flowers
- longevity spinach
- and several others
The great thing about trying out these unusual items at my local farm is that because I pick my own vegetables, I can purchase as little as I want of something that is completely new to me. That way I have a chance to try it without the risk of wasting it if I don’t like it. For example I could buy just 4 or 5 leaves of sorrel to throw into a salad, instead of having to buy an entire bunch.
Additionally, more than a few of the items grown at my local farm were originally suggested by customers. Many of these clients are from different regions or ethnic backgrounds, making the produce available at the farm a reflection of the cultural heritage of my community. If your local farmer is also open to suggestions, you can help to introduce your own community to new items as well.
#6: The Rare Pleasure of Picking Your Own Produce Out of the Ground
I have mentioned more than once that my local farm lets customers harvest their own fruits and vegetables. At first, that might seem like more of a hassle than a benefit. Walking through the dirt; standing under the beating sun on a hot and humid Florida day; bending over and kneeling down to pull beets, radishes and scallions out of the ground; these may not sound like a lot of fun. But it is a fantastic way to get in touch with nature. It is something that many of us have never done before, and may actually never do at all unless we seek out an opportunity to do it.
Every time I have out-of-state or out-of-the-country visitors, I bring them with me on a visit to the farm. Every person of every age that I have ever brought to the farm has loved the experience. It was something that was not only a first time experience for all of them, but also an unexpected and unique one. Add that to the experience of coming home and preparing a meal with those freshly picked items, and they end up with a memorable and beautiful experience that is sometimes a highlight of their trip.
#7: Meeting Some Extraordinary People
Farmers have become a rare breed in the United States. At the beginning of the 20th century, over 30% of the American labor force consisted of farm workers. By the end of the century, that percentage had dropped to around 3%. Even more rare are small independent farmers. The husband and wife (Tom and Robin) who run my local farm are very dedicated, hard working and genuine people. It is obvious that they love what they do. It is also obvious that they see the importance and value of keeping this disappearing way of life a reality. They and the members of their farm are vocal advocates of preserving and protecting not only the farm itself, but also the surrounding lands that are home to native Florida wildlife.
A huge part of the pleasure that I get from visiting the farm comes from having a chat with Tom and Robin, walking through the rows of growing plants with them, and learning more about each variety from them. Their enthusiasm for their labor of love is contagious and I now relish growing my own small vegetable garden in a collection of pots in my backyard. I have also used them as a valuable resource whenever I encounter a problem with one of the plants that I am growing.
#8: Supporting Your Community
Local farmers are not just running small businesses. They are also providing a benefit to their communities. They give their customers access to healthy and nutritious produce at reasonable prices. They also educate members of the community on the value and importance of local agriculture to our economy and our well being. They teach children where fruits and vegetables (and sometimes eggs, milk and meat) come from. They inspire these children to eat healthier and more varied diets, and to hopefully pass their inspiration on to others. When you shop at your local farm, you not only support your family, but you also support the extended community around you.
#9: The Unexpected Mental and Spiritual Satisfaction
The final benefit that you will find becoming a supporter of your local farms is one that I didn’t actually expect. But it’s one of the benefits that I cherish the most.
Each time that I make a decision to make a trip to the farm, I find I become more light hearted. I start to plan what I would like to buy and how I will use it. I plan meals and look forward to eating them. The drive to the farm, though short, is always an enjoyable one because I am so happy about where I am going and what I am about to do.
I typically go to the farm alone, and after a short chat with Tom about what is available for picking and where it is located, I start to wander through the planting rows looking for what I want. It is a peaceful, solitary, and mindful time for me. I enjoy looking at the vegetables and choosing the ones that look just right for my needs. Afterwards, once everything has been sorted, weighed and packaged, the drive home is equally pleasant as I look forward to eventually showing my husband everything that I have harvested. We then plan together what we will use when and how. We both end up having a happier and more relaxed day, feeling so grateful for being members of our little local farm.
So if you haven’t already done it, search out your local farms and start frequenting one or more of them. If you can’t find a farm within a reasonable distance from where you live, then search out your local farmer market. Find out which of the vendors at the market are actually growing their own produce and establish relationships with them. This way you will begin to enjoy many if not all of the benefits I have enjoyed. Maybe you will even find some new ones of your own.
What will you find at your local farm?