When you think of small town America, New York probably is not the first state that comes to mind. In fact, many people forget that, outside of the 301 square miles that encompass New York City, there’s an additional 46,126 square miles of the actual state of New York. When I lived in Spain, the concept of there being more to New York outside of the Big Apple was mind-blowing for my European companions. With my limited español absolutely no help, the only way I could get my Spanish friends to understand that I herald from a small farming community was to tell them that I lived con las vacas (with the cows). It was generally at this point in the conversation that they started looking at me funny.
Outside of New York City, 36,300 farms cover 7 million acres of land, nearly a quarter of the state. Third in the nation for milk and dairy production, New York also has a large number of farms producing field crops like corn and wheat which mainly support the dairy industry. Perhaps one of the most intriguing statistics about agriculture in New York State is that most farms are still family-owned and family-run. It’s nestled within a handful of these small, patchwork farms, that I was raised.
Though not a farmer myself, aside from a short and highly unsuccessful experiment raising chickens in seventh grade, I’ve grown up with the children of local farmers who are now filling their parents’ shoes. But unlike their ancestors before them, more than ever this generation of farmer faces pressure both environmental and financial in nature. American agriculture, at least to many of these small farm-owners, is a relationship with the land and a business all at the same time. How do you find common ground where safe and healthy environmental practices, oftentimes quite expensive, will also allow you to stay afloat in this current economy? It’s a question that my friends lose sleep over and we non-farmers can help.
This past week, as part of my energy diet, I saw about a cow…or at least…parts of one. I also inquired about a pig, got my hands on a chicken, and picked up some produce at a few local farm stands. Even if you don’t live in a small farming community, taking a quick drive out to the country and buying directly from farmers means you can ask valuable questions about how your food was produced, learn what your cow/pig/chicken ate, and establish a relationship that can help you and your family make healthier food, and environmental, choices.