With another school year fast approaching, it is time for a pop quiz. Do you know where your lettuce, tomatoes, peas, corn and carrots come from? How far do the milk, butter and cheese that your family enjoys travel before arriving at the local market? What is the point of origin for all your fresh meat, poultry and pork? All right, pencils down. If “the supermarket” or “unknown” was your first answer to some of those questions, then this week's legislative column is for you!
The produce, dairy and proteins that I just referenced, and so many families enjoy, might be sold in a supermarket but they are grown, harvested and prepared by New York’s hardworking family farmers. These folks work long hours, from sunrise to sunset, day after day every day, to make certain families have a food supply that is nutritious, affordable and, most important, safe. This proud tradition of family farming is worth preserving and protecting.
The approaching end of summer means harvest season will be right around the corner – now is a perfect time to enjoy some of the many delicious and award-winning products our family farms produce. It is also a perfect time to recognize and appreciate the years of hard work and personal pride that went into bringing this delicious food to your family’s table.
FAMILY FARMING GROWS NEW YORK’S ECONOMY
Family farming is the backbone of our State’s economy, generating over $4.7 billion in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. New York has 36,600 farms occupying almost 25 percent of the state’s land. Besides serving as the economic engine that drives the Empire State, family farming is an important part of our cultural heritage. This proud legacy of working the land is as much a part of New York State’s cultural identity as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
SUPPORT OUR LOCAL FAMILY FARMS
There is much you can do to support this proud legacy and our family farmers. A great place to begin is visiting our local farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets provide a terrific way to sample delicious local foods that have been picked at the peak of their flavor, freshness and nutritional value. To locate a farmers’ market near you, visit the NY Farmers Market Web site. If you are affiliated with a farmers’ market, or want to start one in your community, you might benefit from the Small Capital Grants available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Available to communities with populations of fewer than 20,000, these grants range between $40,000 and $60,000, and can be used to finance farmers’ markets that sell fruits and vegetables. They also can be used for programs such as community gardens and kitchens, which teach families how to prepare healthy meals. The deadline to apply for this grant is fast approaching. To see if you qualify, visit www.usda.gov.
LEARN ABOUT “COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE”
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) also offers a great way to buy local seasonal food directly from a local farmer. Here is how CSA works: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public, usually consisting of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Consumers then purchase a share, which is like a membership in the CSA. In return, they receive a box of seasonal produce each week during the farming season. One of the many benefits of a CSA is that not only will you receive the freshest fruits and vegetables possible, you get to try some new products! Be sure to ask a family farmer in your community for suggestions about how to prepare and serve some of these new foods as doing so is a fun, healthy way to support our farms. To learn more, visit the “Local Harvest” Web site.
FAMILY FARMERS DESERVE A FAIR DEAL, NOT HIGHER OPERATING COSTS
Last year, our Assembly Minority Conference and I stood with family farmers to oppose a misleadingly labeled piece of legislation, the so-called “Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.” If enacted, this measure would have increased the cost of farming in our state and made it much more difficult for family farmers struggling to make ends meet. At a time when many family farmers are reeling from the recession and enduring one of the worst business climates ever, we need to prevent such measures from becoming law.
Had the measure passed, it would have cost New York farms over $200 million annually and driven up production expenses and labor regulations to levels that would rank us second only to California in terms of operating expenses and bureaucratic red tape. Keep in mind that New York already has some of the nation’s highest labor costs. In fact, according to the New York Farm Bureau, a non-governmental, volunteer organization representing nearly 30,000 member families, for every $100 in food produced our family farmers paid an average $13.82 to farm workers, compared to the national average of $8.88. We need to reduce the crushing costs already on our family farmers, not continue adding to them. That is why my Assembly Minority colleagues and I opposed this bill.
RESPECT THE PROUD TRADITION OF FAMILY FARMING
Of course, family farming is about more than mere dollars and cents or some piece of legislation being considered in Albany. It is about respect: respect for the land and respect for the people who work hard to grow our food. Whenever you buy fresh and buy local, you are doing more than supporting our family farms – you are preserving and protecting an important way of life.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter, should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.