In the small town of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, four young men looked up at the stars behind a construction site. The oldest of the four, Ben Hundsdorfer, had his hands dirty. Day in and day out, he worked on the structure, to later house a farm-fresh, local foods purveyor.
“Imagine, if agriculture aligned to the stars,” said Zach Grey, a local farm hand.
In the midst of humorous uproar, all present glanced at Hundsdorfer, the most experienced among them, exhibiting respect and admiration. He had climbed Everest, sang in a death metal band, and would later move to Norway.
Even today, farmers and conscious consumers — as members of the progressive local food community in the surrounding towns — remember Hundsdorfer well. Soon after he gave his manual efforts to the construction site, How On Earth opened, serving as a store, kitchen, and catering service. The business provides locally sourced, organic produce, as well as gluten-free, non-GMO foods, including dairy products, baked goods, and hormone-free, antibiotic-free meats.
“In the last probably two years, we’ve really grown and we have a much larger presence in the community,” says Mary Ann Buckley, a young manager at How On Earth who graduated from the local high school. She’s worked in the store and restaurant twice a week, for two years, cooking and baking.
“Part of that has to do with the demand for locally-sourced food, and knowing where things come from, and overall awareness people have about where their meats [are] coming from,” she says. “So it’s great to see people caring.”
As a small business, How On Earth competes with Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and other larger providers of locally sourced, organic foods. However, one of the tried and true secrets to success for small businesses in the food industry — especially that source their ingredients and products locally — is in farm-to-table initiatives.
Around the same time that How On Earth opened, the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) started their annual Farm to Table dinner as a small-scale fundraising event. In June of 2013, a 16-acre, multigenerational family-owned Massachusetts Century Farm in South Dartmouth hosted the 6th annual SEMAP Farm to Table dinner at Alderbrook Farm.
Interestingly enough, SEMAP promotes the event as “beneath the stars.”
Other farms local to southeastern Massachusetts organize annual farm-to-table initiatives. Bay End Farm is one hearty example, a family-owned outfit that began in 1906, and has been certified-organic since 2001. Bay End Farm’s grounds and farm store are located in Bourne, near Cape Cod’s Buzzards Bay. Each year, for the past five years, owner David Ingersoll has hosted three professionally catered farm-to-table events.
“I was the only one in my family who wanted to be a farmer,” says Ingersoll, as a fellow organizer asks for a missing ladle. “We only recently started using machinery. It’s allowed us to increase production. Before we were all hand tools.”
On the day of the event, Bay End Farm exudes an impressive ambiance, an antique reverence for the land, family, and community. The atmosphere features a brilliant sun shining above the garden’s Japanese eggplants and heirloom purple tomatillos, all while busy cooks slice squash in the kitchen.
All of the vegetables served are to be picked by 1 pm, two hours before the 66 guests arrive to sit at the dinner table. They are met with gargantuan wheels of bread which sit readied beside glowing flowers.
While Bay End Farm is solely an organic vegetable farm, the event allows carnivorous epicureans to delight in Cape Cod striped bass or bluefish, Duxbury mussels, and Massachusetts raised pork or beef. If that was not enough to follow the growing farm-to-table movement to the source, four dish-coordinated organic, biodynamic wines are paired with each course, compliments of Central Bottle Wine and Belly Wine Bar.
Over in an urban locale, namely, New York City’s Lower East Side, restaurant employees of the Black Tree hand menus to patrons that describe their standards: everything is sourced seasonally from within 300 miles. The requirement applies to “farm-to-sandwich” squash blossom, and whole pasture-raised, grass fed cow meat that’s cut in-house, not to mention all of the alcohol.
Arguably, the most pressing threat to the agenda of localizing the food industry through the farm-to-table initiative is the blaring absence of young farmers across the country. In fact, while 62 percent of farmers nationwide are at least 55, only about six percent younger than 35. The prime age for farming is considered to be 35 to 44, however, in the US, there are more farmers who are at least 75 than in that prime range.
In Massachusetts, where the average age of farmers is in the mid-50s, there are youth advocacy leaders taking up the struggle to reintroduce more young people to farming. One of the most active of these groups is the Young Farmer Network, spearheaded by Margiana Petersen-Rockney.
Petersen-Rockney grew up on a dairy goat farm in southeastern Massachusetts. She now serves as the Food Literacy Project Coordinator at Harvard University, and was also instrumental in organizing the Pasture to Plate program, which assists young farmers in making a living and developing a market.
“The risk is that we won’t have people to grow our food,” explains Petersen-Rockney. “There has been this recent trend of well-educated young people going into agricultural [fields]. Right now we need people who are educated with systems understanding to come up with ideas, and entrepreneurial models to tackle the issues in our food system,” Petersen-Rockney would like to see a loan-forgiveness program initiated for young farmers who also face crushing student debt. In addition, she explains that almost a third of farmers in Massachusetts are women who are often faced with unique, costly healthcare needs.
“Farm-to-table initiatives are important entry points. Food is the obvious place to first engage and interest people in the food system,” she continues. “That is one of the major initiatives that it fulfills, drumming up support for individual farms and what is unique about them.”
Crossposted from BreakThru Radio.
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