‘Local is the new organic’
The county’s growing taste for local food is sprouting up in grocery stores, farm stands and farmer’s markets, and many people view it as key to the region’s economic viability.
Communities that produce and buy products locally create self-reliant, stronger economies, according to a newly issued report by the Sierra Business Council. Supporting local agriculture increases farmers’ economic viability and reduces pollution from shipping food long distances, the report added.
“Local is the new organic,” said Alan Weisberg, board member of BriarPatch Community Market. He is helping to organize a series of free lectures and workshops on alternatives to “factory farming.”
Richard Collins, California’s largest endive farmer, will speak in the store’s community room from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to describe a 450-acre agricultural development planned near Dixon.
As many as 20 farmers provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the store, along with ranchers who supply grass-fed beef raised in the county and bakers who supply bread.
“It’s our goal not to just sell food but to promote it,” Collins said.
New generation of farmers
Loren Schopen and Emily Phillips aspire to become full-time berry farmers. For now, Schopen is a carpenter who constructs “green” buildings to pay the bills, and Phillips stays home with the couple’s two small children.
The couple has invested $30,000 in loans to get two acres of blueberry and blackberry bushes planted, irrigated and trellised.
“It’s like a hobby that consumes all of our time and money,” he said.
Phillips said she didn’t know who to call for help when a shipment of 1,000 plants arrived or even how to get rid of the gophers.
“There were so many times when we had a simple question and didn’t know who to go to,” Phillips said.
The couple started gathering names and numbers of other farmers and created a resource network. So far, a mix of 35 people have come forward and are now swapping labor and sharing equipment and knowledge, the couple said.
Older farmers thinking of retirement have offered their land to young farmers who can’t afford it. Established farmers are giving advice to homesteading families who are considering selling some of the produce they grow.
The couple hopes to turn the business into a demonstration farm. Phillips, meanwhile, is organizing some workshops in the coming months to focus on bio-dynamic farming and composting, farm financing, and so-called community service agriculture.
Several small farms have discovered a niche market with community service agriculture. The program supplies buyers with weekly fresh-food boxes and connects farmers directly with their customers while keeping money in the county.
Where to go
The Local Food Coalition and the University of California Cooperative Extension will soon release 20,000 copies of a farm guide listing nearly 70 local farms.
People interested in locally grown food will be able to grab a copy at farmers markets, local farms, BriarPatch and Chamber of Commerce offices.
The idea behind the guide is to increase awareness of local agriculture and direct people to where they need to go to buy local products.
“It’s a way to put more dollars into farmers’ pockets,” said farm advisor Roger Ingram.
Farms have grown in number but shrunk in size during the past 100 years, Ingram said. That’s why it’s important to increase sales locally, through community service agriculture, farmer’s markets and farm stands, he said.
“The more you’re doing that direct marketing, the more chance you’re going to be economically viable,” Ingram said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion. com or call 477-4231.
Anyone interested in joining a support group for large and small scale farmers or people who are considering farming can contact Emily Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the local farming movement, visit the Web at http://www.localfoodcoalition.org/
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