Now, by default most farms are located in some fairly rural areas, located a reasonable distance from the markets they need to serve to make a living. In our case those markets are the greater New York City area including southern Connecticut and northern New Jersey. Yes, we do ship to Boston and our products do find their way in the Maryland/DC area. So, can we—or better, should we—consider those areas local? Our definition of local is anything within a 6-hour drive from Stone Ridge, NY. If farmers, including us, depended on their local community to make a living, we’d all be broke. So, by our definition, the answer is yes.
But every day people say they want more of something else and they want it cheaper. We still battle daily with food grown in California, South America, and Canada. Why? Their crops are not necessarily grown any better than the way we grow our crops—we’re heavily invested in the Integrated Pest Management and plan on transitioning to biodynamic next year. The farmers don’t care about your local community to the same degree as we do—since we have a more direct connection with consumers in our region). Their food is not any safer—the recent food safety scares prove that point pretty definitively. Its not better for you—in fact, our crops are fresher and more nutritious than anything else in the market by virtue of the fact that they are grown locally. And its certainly not local. So what is going on? Well, there are three things going on: price, instant gratification, and seasonality.
The first, price, is something we can’t easily compete with or do anything about. Many corporate buyers know it, so they negotiate it as if we were talking about the same products, even though we aren’t. Locally grown food is good food, not cheap food, and it provides so many benefits to local communities that we can barely even begin to calculate their value. Consumers are the only ones that can make a difference here in the way they make buying decisions.
The second issue that affects local buying trends is instant gratification. Here again the consumer is the only one that can make a difference. If people want strawberries in February, then there is going to be someone out there to get it to them. Consumers often focus on buying locally grown products only when they are “in season,” instead of looking to use them throughout the year. Many local products can be processed for use throughout the year, but we don’t do that much anymore. And others like apples store quite well for many months throughout the winter.
Second, as soon as the leaves are off the tree and snow starts to fly, people start thinking about citrus, Christmas, the New Year, almost anything but local produce. But the fact is that local is around us year long. Those vine ripe tomatoes may be gone, but local farms still have an immense amount to offer. Milk, eggs, apples, potatoes, cheese, and more are there for the asking. Unbeknownst to many consumers, local is accessible even in the middle of winter.
So, who doesn’t want to buy great produce at a good price and with some degree of instant gratification? But when these things come with hefty environmental and social price tags what then? And that’s where the local comes in. As for us at Stone Ridge Orchard, we encourage consumers and trade buyers alike to buy as locally as possible. Think outside the box and look for local even in the dead of winter. Ask where your food comes from. Who grew it? Better yet, tell us how do you define local. In what ways does it matter to you and how you make purchasing decisions? Are open space, clean air, and good food worth the additional cost of buying locally grown farm products?
We want customers that want our products as much as we want them to have them. It benefits us all. Let us know what local means to you. Know your roots.