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An alternative to a food system in flux

Sign seen during curbside pick-up at the Saranac Lake Farmers’ Park It. (Provided photo — Adirondack Harvest)

In March, when Governor Cuomo signed the “New York State on PAUSE” executive order, which mandated that all non-essential businesses in New York State had to close, farmer’s markets were exempted as essential retail businesses and, as such, allowed to open or remain open.

But, as concerns about the spread of COVID-19 grew, farmers market growers, gardeners, and managers, like other small business operators, found themselves rushing to come up with innovative contingency plans to modify their operations and employ solutions that would protect their livelihoods, as well as the health and well-being of their customers, market workers, and the community at large.

Several Adirondack Harvest member-farms took almost-immediate action to initiate online ordering systems and a drive-through pick up service. The online marketplace and drive-through farmers market that emerged was called the Saranac Lake Farmers’ Park-It.

It’s a wonderful example of just how creative, resourceful, and resilient our agricultural entrepreneurs and market managers can be. It also demonstrates how less really can be more. Being locally focused allowed these businesspersons to swiftly respond to an emergency situation and apply creative market-management-practices, without having to completely rethink their business model, reimagine their organizational practices, or rebuild complex supply chains, like those that essentially shut down the global food-service sector earlier this year, preventing farmers, across the country, from getting their products to market.

Adirondack Harvest (adirondackharvest.com) is a Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) community-based local food and farm promotion-and-development-program with a strong commitment to small-scale, sustainable farming, and a focus on developing and expanding markets for local farm-fresh products. Years of effort by CCE Educators across northern New York have resulted in the development of more than 50 local-community-based Adirondack Harvest Farmers’ Markets, now in full-swing at convenient locations in every northern New York County.

Participating market vendors are your neighbors. They’re small-farm-managers and family members who greatly appreciate your support.

When you shop at farmers markets, everybody wins. Not only do you support local, sustainable, small-scale agricultural-entrepreneurism, you help safeguard our agricultural land and heritage, improve our quality of life, and strengthen our rural economies.

You’ll find fresh-picked vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, homemade baked goods, local grass-fed and finished meats, free-range chicken and eggs, jams and jellies, cheeses, maple syrup, honey, snack foods, fruit juices, teas, wines and liquors, bedding plants, body-care products, and much more. Market locations and days and hours of operation, along with a list of tips for visiting farmers’ markets during the pandemic, can be found online at adirondackharvest.com/markets All Adirondack Harvest farmers markets have incorporated operational changes, including on-site social distancing and mask-wearing, in order to minimize exposure and outbreak risks; ensuring the safest shopping experiences possible. And many Adirondack Harvest member-farms now offer curbside pick-up and delivery. You can search the Adirondack Harvest Directory (adirondackharvest.com/browse) for pick-up and delivery options. Local food guides are available online, as well (adirondackharvest.com/local-food-guides) Adirondack Harvest encourages consumers to learn about the agricultural practices of your farming neighbors, support local, sustainable, small-scale agricultural entrepreneurism, and advocate for farm-friendly regulations in your community. By doing so, you can help safeguard our agricultural land and heritage, improve our quality of life, and strengthen our rural economies. CCE invites growers and consumers to explore and anticipate how the decisions they make today might affect the future, and to make choices that are equitable, economically and ecologically sound, and that promote responsibility and pride, strong, sustainable community development, and environments where economic development opportunities can flourish.

Agriculture is an essential, life-sustaining industry. CCE encourages all sectors of the agriculture supply chain to safely maintain operations during the pandemic. And we encourage consumers to support local farms by shopping at farmers markets, CSAs, and farm stands during the pandemic, as well.

The choice is yours, of course. But, every time you hand your money to the person who grew or made the product(s) in front of you, you’re supporting that farmer, local artisan, or craftsperson and his or her family; people who are just trying to make ends meet or send a son or daughter to college, soccer camp, karate school, or the dentist.

Resources for farmers

CCE of Franklin County has an updated list of resources intended to help farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The list was compiled by specialists with the North Country Regional Ag Team, from sources including Cornell University and government and industry agencies and organizations and can be found online at franklin.cce.cornell.edu/agriculture/agriculture-and-covid-19.

Online sales tools for farmers

Erica Frenay, a livestock specialist and online course coordinator with the Cornell Small Farms Program, recently wrote about how farmers can think through what type of online sales tools would work for their farm. The article was published in the Summer 2019 issue of the Small Farms Quarterly, but is especially relevant today, as small business owners and employees consider how to reach current and new customers. It can be found online at smallfarms.cornell.edu/2019/07/selling-real-farm-products-in-a-virtual-marketplace

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