Farmers’ markets good stewards of community

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 01:49 PM

Sure, farmers’ markets do good on an individual level, supplying shoppers with locally-grown delectable vegetables and fruits, artisan cheeses, succulent meats and unique gifts. But they have a long arm that reaches beyond the confines of their marketplace and a few hours on Saturday mornings. Farmers’ markets are doing good in communities as well. 
In a recovering economy, it’s encouraging that the recent survey done by the Carrboro Farmers’ Market using a nationally recognized statistical model found that the market boosts the local economy a whopping $4.5 million a year. An even more inspiring statistic is from the NC 10% Campaign, a program launched in 2009 that helps stimulate economic development, create jobs and promote our state’s agricultural offerings.  The campaign, run by North Carolina’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems, states that if all North Carolinians allocated just 10% of their food expenditures to locally produced food, we’d generate $3.5 billion for the state’s economy. Supporting farmers’ markets is good business for communities and citizens across the financial spectrum. With the support of a UNC Health Care sponsorship of $5,000, the Carrboro Farmers’ Market was able to bring 30 percent more local foods to low income shoppers through its Market Match program, an incentive plan that offers additional funds to this strata of shoppers. The market accepts SNAP/EBT benefits (formerly known as food stamps) as well as WIC and SENIOR benefits. Local farms work for local communities, says past Carrboro Farmers’ Market Board President Alex Hitt.
“Good stewardship has always been important to farmers,” Hitt explained.  “And it covers a lot of things. On the farm, good stewardship is safeguarding heirloom varieties, wise crop rotation for better yields without harming the land, no chemical pesticides, integrating animals to help prepare the soil, smart treatment of field borders, setting aside areas for beneficial insect habitat and introducing new products so we can get a more diverse mix of produce on the farm that is able to withstand climate and ecological changes.  That’s why our local farm economy is so vibrant;  we’re always talking and ramping each other up to do more.”
Hitt is quick to point out that stewardship is evident in the community: Farms preserve what he calls working landscapes. It’s not just protecting beautiful pastoral countryside; it’s safeguarding economically-viable land, land that, when put to good use, improves the local and state economy through commerce and taxes. 
“It’s amazing what dollars spent on locally-grown foods can do, ” Hitt commented.  “But the profit goes beyond just the farmer’s pockets.  My family shops at our local co-op grocery store. We eat breakfast every week at local restaurants. Our doctor, pharmacist and mechanic are in Carrboro. I’m buying the supplies for a building on the farm from a neighborhood lumber store. We may not live in town, but we spend money in town and we hire local people.”
Hitt believes farmers’ markets are also good stewards of a way of life. “The Carrboro Farmers’ Market creates a platform for a lot of farmers to come together and operate a business,” he pointed out.  “There’s strength in numbers. Our Farmers’ Market is kind of like a mall. The farmers are the small businesses you’d find in a mall. Our job as an organization is to create a level playing field and conditions so farmers can open their ‘stores’ for business.” 
Hitt’s advice for how customers can be better stewards of their community? Easy: Vote with your dollars. Buy local, which keeps your money and taxes local. Be an informed eater, educate yourself about food, learn which farming practices work, go on farm tours, spend all of your dollars in your community. 
For Hitt, the key to good stewardship is quality of life. “In the long run, if we all have a good quality of life then we’re more likely to be responsible about everything else we do,” he concludes. “If we’re eating well, if we’re not over-stressed and overworked, if neighbors live in harmony with each other, quality of life goes up.  Our farmers’ market promotes a good quality of life with good products and good energy.  Sustainability is a three-legged stool: environmental, economic and social. You’re only sustainable if you have all three. We do. That’s what good stewardship is really all about.”
Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm are in their 32nd year of farming, growing year-round vegetables and seasonal cut flowers and turkeys.  Melanie Raskin is one of 35 volunteers at the Carrboro Farmers Market, which has been bringing local foods to the community for more than 30 years. Open year-round, 85 farmers and artisans sell vegetables, fruit, meats and fowl, canned and baked goods, dried flowers and greenery, cheese and crafts at the Carrboro Town Common Saturdays, 7 a.m. to noon. For more information go to carrborofarmersmarket.com.