Our farmers want to feed us but…

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2020

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Life on the farm
by Larry McDermott

This virus has cast a pall across the land, but it hasn’t entered the soil that produces food for humans and livestock. Farmers here still are making good things happen for you.
Granted, there is uncertainty as we enter that time of the year when farmers markets set up tables, awnings and banners and welcome folks anxious to buy fresh, locally grown food.
The opening of farmers markets is always a joyous occasion. We see friends who faded into the background during the winter months. We regale them with tales of how our garden is growing, our plants are setting fruit and our livestock are looking healthy and robust.
We talk about calves that were born over winter, goat kids about to pop out any day now and how we sure hope we have better luck with our tomato crop this year. We talk about how good the asparagus crop is this spring and how the bees are foraging like their wings are on fire.
Tomorrow? That is the big unknown because of the coronavirus that has blanketed the world. It isn’t something afflicting people in some foreign country we have never visited or care much about. It has settled into our own communities and is affecting our daily lives and livelihoods.
Huge farming operations across the country are starting to plow under crops and dump milk. There is little demand because of the virus invasion. But milk isn’t being dumped and crops aren’t being plowed under in small regions like ours. There is demand for the milk our cows give, the butter and cheese we make, the greenery we grow, the fruit from our bushes and trees and the steaks and chops made from our livestock.
The biggest challenge isn’t producing, it’s linking safely with consumers.
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, a nonprofit organization that helps bring farmers and consumers together in Western North Carolina, found through a survey that 80 percent of our farmers reported “decreases in customers and sales and an overall loss of income” because of closures due to the virus pandemic.
There are about 50 farmers markets in Western North Carolina. Farmers selling to restaurants, retailers and farmers markets produce more than $16 million in annual revenue.
On a national scale, that isn’t huge, but in our world, it is everything as we face perhaps our biggest test.
This Saturday, the Rutherford County Farmers Market will open at its usual place in downtown Forest City, but customers won’t be walking the aisles checking the produce. They will be driving through, looking out their car or truck window and deciding what they want to buy. Farmers will hand it to them, collect their money and offer thanks.
Polk County is delaying the opening of its summer market located next to the courthouse in downtown Columbus.
“I plan to open early May, first or second weekend. As long as things are ‘relatively’ stable,” said Dawn Jordan, the county’s agriculture economic director and market manager. The rules for farmers and shoppers are being worked out in coordination with health officials. Jordan has studied Rutherford County’s drive-thru model and will look at ASAP’s “controlled walk-up market” this weekend.
Our local farmers markets need you to come out and support them. We need to keep these markets open and safe. By all means, practice safety. Wear a mask, wash your hands and disinfect everything like you mean it.
Our farmers are a tight knit community. We are together in this. We are determined. And we are counting on you.

Larry McDermott, a retired journalist, owns a 40-acre organic farm in Rutherfordton, where he grows blueberries, keeps bees and raises horses, dairy goats, and chickens. Email: hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com or see farm happenings at www.facebook.com/hardscrabblehollowfarmllc

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