Buy local. Eat local.
Virginia is a rich resource for fresh food. From Fredericksburg to Stafford there are a number of available options for families who want to eat local produce and meats. Farmers markets, CSAs, farm stores, and even local restaurants whose menu reflects farm-to-table are all available in the area.
Your local farms are hard at work to provide you with fresh, delicious foods and products. Whether you like to visit your local farmers market on the weekend and choose from artisan products (like stopping at a produce stand so you can top your salad with vine-ripened tomatoes), the area has a variety of opportunities to choose from.
If you aren’t already buying directly from farms, here are some practical ways that it can benefit your health:
It’s Fresh: Many times fruits and veggies are picked and shipped days or weeks before they hit the grocery store. When you buy directly from a farmer, you know that it has been raised and harvested just hours before it reaches your table.
Organic and Non-GMO: When you shop from local farms, you have the availability to know what methods they use to grow their produce and raise their meats. So if you are trying to avoid chemicals and genetically modified organisms (or GMOs), you can find farmers who have the same values as you.
It’s Ripe: When a plant’s natural sugars are at their peak, your body is going to get the best nutrition that fruit or vegetable has to offer. Not only does ripe produce taste better, but it is good for you! Many local farmers have the ability to cultivate nutrition in their produce by being mindful of their growing methods.
Small Scale: Farmers who raise animals on a smaller scale get to know their product. They have the ability to raise the healthiest, nutrient-dense meat available to you. They also have the ability to use humane practices to give them the healthiest environment possible.
Getting to know your farmer.
Farmers are real people. They are the ones who have their hands in the dirt, nurturing plants and ensuring that they grow up to be the best they can be. Farmers put time and thought into the way they raise their animals and grow their crops. They are the ones caring for each and every animal, keeping them strong and healthy for the day that they reach your table.
Farms come in all shapes and sizes. Snead’s Farm is on 290 acres in Spotsylvania and is known for their Asparagus. Braehead Farm is the last remaining farm in the Historic city of Fredericksburg, where they offer produce and beef with their own farm market and “pick your own produce” options. Miller Farms in Locust Grove are known for their market where they offer year-round produce and community supported agriculture (CSAs). You can buy a variety of meats, dairy, and other products right from their store.
There is a lot that goes into each and every product you might see at the market! When you go and pick out a cabbage, you aren’t just buying a cabbage! You are buying each and every step that cabbage has lived through: from choosing the right seed, germinating, planting, growing, keeping it from being eaten (by nasty bugs and vagrant kids), and then finally harvesting that product.
It is just as important to know your farmer as it is to know the chef who is making all of your meals. What cleanliness standards do they follow? What kinds of ingredients do they use? What kind of quality are the products? Whether you know where your food came from or not, there are values and beliefs that go into your food.
“Don’t you find it odd that people will put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food?” – Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms
Here are some practical ways you can get to know your farmer:
- Go to the farmers market This is the most obvious way. And there are a variety of markets, CSAs, and farm stores to choose from locally with a variety of hours and locations. Ask questions. “Where did the products come from?” “How long have you been farming?” “What kind of ingredients are used in it, on it, or to feed it?” “What are some of things that you take pride in?” And, “What is your favorite thing about farming?”
- Visit the farms This may be the no-so-obvious (but completely obvious) way to meet your farmer. “Agritourism” is somewhat of a new concept for a lot of small farms who don’t have the capacity to hold large events or school field trips, but who want families to come visit the animals or pick some produce. Larger farms like Snead’s and Braehead have specific hours of operation and some of them are closed during the winter. Seasonal or special events may not be the best time to get to know the farmer. It may be a good idea to contact the farm and tell them your interest in getting to know what they are doing – many farms are more than happy to give you a tour and answer your questions.
- Take advantage of special events: Although this may not be the best time to ask questions, you might be able to see where your food comes from and get a feel for the farm’s values. Many families love to take their children to as many farm events as possible all year-round, from pumpkin picking in the fall to strawberry picking in the spring.
“We’re always glad to see new faces at the market. And talking with the person who grows your food is the best way to know what the growing process involves and also to be an agent of change. If farmers consistently get messages from consumers that they want food that is grown sustainably, they will change their practices to suit the market.” – Gayle Price, Fredericksburg City Market Manager