Although many local farmers are not “Certified Organic,” that doesn’t mean their offerings aren’t healthy. Some small farmers use organic processes to grow food, but don’t have the USDA label, says Cheryl Paff, the business manager of the farmers’ markets in Rhinebeck and Woodstock.
Nadia Maczaj, the market director of Suffern’s farmers’ market and a farmer herself, notes that many small farmers find the paperwork and fee to become “Certified Organic” overwhelming.
And if you have any question about a farmer’s methods, says Paff, all you have to do is ask. That’s another advantage of buying your food directly from the person who produced it.
“Even here, in the Hudson Valley, it’s surprising that some children don’t know where their food comes from and how it’s grown,” says Maczaj. “Farmers’ markets allow kids to talk to the farmers, so they have a connection to their food that they don’t get when they see plastic bags of vegetables in the supermarket.”
Then there are the environmental benefits. “Most of our markets’ produce is naturally, organically grown or minimally sprayed,” says Jo Hull, who manages the Warwick Valley Farmers’ Market.
Not only are these growing practices better for your family, they’re also better for the environment. They are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and to reduce pollution.
Farmers who grow organically don’t use chemical fertilizers to help their plants grow – they use natural fertilizers, like compost or manure. Instead of spraying insecticides on crops, they use beneficial insects and birds. To combat weeds, organic farmers hand weed, use mulch, or rotate crops, while conventional farmers use chemical herbicides. All these chemicals end up in the food you eat or water you drink.
Buying locally also means that fewer fossil fuels are burned to transport food, because it comes from nearby farms rather than those thousands of miles away. “Our farmers are mostly from Ulster and Dutchess counties,” says Paff, “they’re within 60 miles of our market.”
Some fruit and vegetables in your supermarket probably has more frequent flier miles than you do. Also, other countries have different – and often far less stringent – rules about what farmers can spray on their food. Farmers in Mexico can (and do) still use DDT, which was banned in the United States 35 years ago.
Sue Sanders is a freelance writer living in Ulster County.