On Friday, September 18, the ALANA Cultural Center hosted a panel discussion titled “Experiences and Perspectives from Local Producers.” The event was part of the Lampert Institute Series “Local Food Cultures: Traditions and Futures.” Two of the local producers shared their experiences working in Central New York and talked about contemporary challenges and opportunities they face in growing and publicizing the importance of local food.
Wendy Burkhart, the owner of Common Thread Farm (also known as a Community Supported Agricultural farm or CSA), talked about the different issues that food producers must confront and how these hardships are interrelated, creating great difficulty for the local producers to grow food. Burkhart considered the unpredictable climate in the area to be the most significant obstacle posed to food producers. She told the audience that unforeseeable disasters such as floods are more frequent in present-day society, and that many of the diseases affecting crops result from this lack of predictability. Since Central New York is lacking in technical support and consultants–such as economic development specialists–farmers have to buy equipment to work on things like irrigation. The more equipment they purchase, the more time and labor they need to cope with all of these problems.
“We are not in a region that [has] lots of support. There is not a lot of support of techniques or equipment. If you grow vegetables and you are in a region that has a lot of support, it would really help,” Burkhart said.
Since the weather in the area is unpredictable, farmers are doing everything based on the previous year’s weather patterns. However, occurrences in the past are not always a reliable indicator.
“Things are changing and you do not always know. A lot of what we are dealing with in farming is to spend more money to protect the crops or to ensure those issues don’t happen,” Burkhart said.
Moreover, access to land is another one of the problems that local growers face. There are many farmers, but the land and space is limited. More people means more competition in the local area.
Despite these challenges, there are several opportunities that seem to be promising.
President of Good Nature Brewing, Inc. Carrie Blackmore ’08 also contributed to the discussion, noting the changes in local agricultural production that have occurred since she first came to Hamilton.
Blackmore spoke about the advantage of organic farms and the environmental benefits of people buying local food.
“Small organic farms make good use of environmental practices. On large-scale farms, soils are lost and drained, and animals are mistreated. You can actually make a difference about that by buying local food. You can meet the producers, see what they are doing and make sure you feel good about that,” Blackmore said.
Burkhart shared similar memories of the past: “In terms of food, I don’t think anybody was making it when I started farming twenty years ago. And then, somewhere around 2006 and 2007, Michael Pollan’s great movies were coming out. CSA[s] were taking off, farmers’ market was taking off,” Burkhart said. Excitement began to build up around the idea of local food, and a lot of people in this region started to take on farming as a full time job.
Dr. Laura Lengnick was the third person to speak at the event about the importance of local food production. As a farmer and activist from North Carolina, Lengnick also presented her views on climate change in a lecture later that afternoon called “Climate Change: Resilience and the Future of Food” as a part of the Lampert Institute Series.
At the end of the discussion, the local food producers expressed their biggest wish. Besides providing healthy organic food to people, what they most strongly care about is how to educate people, to make them think about an entrenched idea that they have taken for granted for many years: whether they can truly feel good about the food they’re consuming.