To truly understand your local food system, nothing substitutes going straight to your food’s point of origin- the farm! However, you will most likely need to do a few things before you arrive unannounced in the middle of a harvest or chores time!
- WHO WANTS TO GO?
Do you have children that you would like to take along? If so, make sure the farm you visit is kid-friendly. Most are, but some, especially those with larger livestock, may request that you leave the wee ones at home or require that they are strictly supervised.
- WHAT TYPE OF FARM DO YOU WANT TO GO TO?
Would you like to stroll through the grapevines of a local organic winery with your loved one? Or perhaps a more family-style “hands-on” trip to help with basic farm tasks such as weeding or u-pick strawberries? Would you prefer to go with a group on a guided tour of a farm or just help out for a few hours at a small vegetable CSA? Mull over these options in your decision-making, or discuss with your family and friends.
- HOW DO YOU FIND A FARM?
Ok- you’ve decided you’d love to take little Timmy and Jackie to feed pasture-raised chickens, as well as assist with some kid-friendly farm tasks like weeding or picking green beans. Except you have no idea where this magical place is in your area. If you do not already have a connection with a local farmer from either farmers markets, word-of-mouth, or community supported agriculture, your local Buy Fresh Buy Local Chapter has a very helpful tool to prevent fruitless efforts of searching in the Yellow Pages for “Local/Organic/Sustainable Food!” It’s called a Local Food Guide (sometimes also referred to as a Local Buying Guide, Where to Buy Local, etc), and while its appearance may vary from chapter to chapter, the contents should contain an organized list of farms, restaurants, and institutions that support or produce local foods. Many chapters, such as CAFF, also make this resource available online.
- CONTACT YOUR FARMER IN ADVANCE, AND BE FLEXIBLE TO THEIR SCHEDULES
Many farmers, especially those involved with the local food movement, are flattered when asked if folks can visit their farm. Perhaps they are so organized that they hold regular farm tours, festivals, or field days and can give you the drill of when and where (and if there is a small fee) for coming out. But in many cases, the farmers are flattered but may not be used to hosting regular tours or visits to their farm. Ask them what type of clothing and shoes to wear (muck boots?), best time of day to come, are kids allowed, etc. Be mindful of different cultural dos and don’ts- for example if you are visiting an Amish farm, leave the camera at home! Don’t expect to be fed or given mountains of free veggies, although usually some food, especially if you exchange it with some labor while you are there, is offered. Be sure to exchange contact information in case of last-minute cancellations or changes. A farmers schedule can always change, especially depending on the weather.
- QUESTIONS TO ASK WHILE AT THE FARM
This is your time to ask local growers all those questions you’ve pondered about local foods. Do they do all direct marketing? What are the challenges they face selling to a local market, as well as the rewards (both monetary and intrinsic). What are some of their farm goals? In addition be prepared for them to ask you questions from the consumer/supporter perspective. It is a great time to build your farmer-consumer relationship and appreciate those involved in local food networks.