(Actually 6 including a bonus action!)
Are you ready for a great list of tangible and meaningful ways to support a farmer, or a small farm and to make a difference in their lives? I think you are.
First, THE WHY
Before we get there, let’s just make sure we are on the same page as to WHY supporting a small farmer might be important.
Here’s my list (in 5s of course):
Enhanced biodiversity – small farmers grow diverse crops, save seeds, and perpetuate heirloom and heritage varieties. They also typically use less pesticides than conventional agriculture allowing pollinators and soil microbes to flourish.
Environmental benefits – small farms that employ organic practices (certified or not) reduce emissions, improve their soil, and conserve important resources (like water). Plus a small farm that is local to you uses less fuel to get food to you.
Food security – if they grow it near you and can sell it there too, you have better access to fresh local food during good and bad times (ahem, the pandemic).
Animal welfare – small farms typically have fewer animals than commercial agribusinesses and more individual attention to the care of each animal.
Vibrant rural communities – the dollars a farmer earns typically recirculate in their local communities 7 times, fueling the local economy, filling schools, and giving small businesses a place to thrive.
Now, FIVE EASY ACTIONS
Supporting a local farmer helps them and their businesses survive and the benefits come back to you, your family, and your community directly.
1. Get to Know a Farmer!
You know your doctor and your kids’ teachers, so why not your farmer? If you think about it for a minute, a farmer has a tremendous impact on your life starting with three meals a day, some snacks, your natural environment, the health of your soil and water, and the economic viability of your community.
When you know your farmer personally you have a hotline to real answers to the most pressing questions! What do your chickens eat that makes my egg yolks so deeply yellow? Do you have a good recipe for kohlrabi? What does it mean to have organic practices but not a USDA organic certification? When will the garlic scapes be in season? Can we feed “everyone” with small regenerative farms?
I know we are all trying to put the pandemic behind us, but remember those days? We all scrambled to find a farmer with fresh eggs and a good cut of beef for that recipe we always wanted to try. The subscriptions to CSA boxes (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and literally funds a farmer’s investment in seeds up front) were nearly impossible to get. Farmers were declared ESSENTIAL. Well, it’s not just during a pandemic that they are, but it is during such tough times that they are labeled as such. I think we should keep that “essential” mindset regarding how we consider farmers all year long, every year.
If you don't know a farmer, let me introduce you to Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia. He's transformed his family farm from industrial to regenerative. Here he is on Farm Talk answering questions from readers like you.
You can also try this 5-day "Get to Know Your Farmer" Challenge. It's fun and practical!
2. Shop at Your Local Farmer’s Market!
If you were wondering how in the heck you get to know your farmer, your local farmer’s market is a great place to start! This is one way to get to know a farmer face-to-face in an environment where you have something in common – those eggs, that kohlrabi, the garlic scapes. This is the perfect place to decide what to make for dinner and farmers can help!
Now, before you tell me it’s hard to get to the market in the middle of a life filled with work and carpools and dog walking and all that… just hold on. I am going to help you. You need The Ultimate Farmer’s Market Guide, a 22-page resource with tips, pitfalls to avoid, special items you can’t find anywhere else, and even a little handholding to help you find your closest markets. What’s more, it gives you a little push on what to do when you’re there including some convo starters with the awesome farmers and other vendors you’ll meet.
If a farmer’s market is not part of your routine (yet), here are two ideas:
Challenge yourself to replace one item you buy from a supermarket and get it at the farmer’s market instead * and
Before you say "no, no, no" get the guide below so you can explore all the benefits, fun, handy tips, and other ideas on how to best find and navigate your farmer's market
* Let me give you this little motivating factoid. The eggs in your supermarket may be 100 days old. By law, a farmer has to get the eggs off their farm before 30 days, but there are no expiration dates for supermarkets. At the farmer’s market, the eggs are this week’s eggs!
3. Join a CSA!
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another great way to support a farmer and to get to know them. Basically, you sign up for a farm share, your dollars fund the seeds and the labor that goes into growing the produce (and some CSAs have meat, honey, and dairy too), and when the goods are ready, you get a box full of the freshest groceries around. You also will have a built-in communication line to your farmer, so feel free to use it for questions and recipe requests.
I like to think about being part of a CSA like being on one of those hot cooking shows. You get a weekly challenge assignment from the farm gods. What will you make with all those beets? Or kale? Or carrots? What you get in your CSA box is what comes out of the ground that week. Of course, farms try to balance what you get in your box, but during zucchini season, you’re definitely getting zukes! Zoodles anyone? (Hit me up for some recipes like this one for the best squash soup ever!)
4. Share farmer stories.
For Farmers shares farmer stories and dispels myths – in a podcast called Talk Farm to Me and on social media, mainly from Instagram and now Threads (@xoxofarmgirl). You can listen to and share those stories to spread the word. It’s that easy.
The more of us who get to know and understand a farmer -- what they do and are passionate about, the tough decisions they make and the obstacles they face, and the funny things that happen on their farms – the better!
I have picked out my favorite episodes of Talk Farm to Me for you. One of them features Farmer Will Harris (mentioned in #1 above) and other farmers from across the US. A trout farmer, a corn and soybean farmer, cattle ranchers, lamb farmers, farmers pivoting during the pandemic, one about beer, another about walnut issues, and what's up with dairy. Each episode shines a spotlight on the farmer but is really about you and how all of this impacts your life. Pick one from the Greatest Hits list to listen to.
5. Donate $1. Just $1. (Let me show you how it helps.)
For Farmers awards mini-grants to farmers. People just like you nominate them. This is a really important part of the process. I mean, imagine someone you don’t really know nominating you for how hard you work. It feels good. Really good. That is part of what For Farmers is all about. To give us a way to SEE farmers. To let them FEEL that. In our last grantmaking season, For Farmers had nominations from all 50 states.
To support these nominations, For Farmers takes donations to fund mini-grants. And here’s the rub. ONE dollar matters. Have we gotten bigger donations? Yes. But the spirit of For Farmers is that you would donate $1 and get your friends to do the same, and so on. For Farmers wants to be the movement where one million people each donate a dollar to farmers. You can be a part of that!
The dollars add up. We have awarded 26 mini-grants. Farmers apply for what they need. Not what’s sexy. Like a new gate. Or hay. Or a fence. Or improved electrical wiring. Not sexy, but it moves the needle in a real way. One farmer’s fence secured the perimeter around a muddy pond where baby lambs were at risk of getting stuck and drowning. Another farmer added new seeds to their farm for the season. And yet another engaged the younger 4th generation in running the farm’s first-ever farm stand. A For Farmers mini-grant to start a watering system for goats in the barn motivated the local community to donate more to make the project even better. It all matters.
Donate $1 here and it will go directly to a farmer as part of a mini-grant. It's a small action with a big impact.
6. BONUS TIME: This one is for Champions!
You can do more. Because you want to help. Because being engaged, even just a little bit more, feels meaningful and powerful. You can become a Champion For Farmers! Here’s how it works (yup, another list of 5s!):
You donate $25 (or more) to For Farmers mini-grants.
You join a For Farmers team of your choosing.
You can work on a project on your own (like research or gathering resources).
Or you can work with some other Champions on a team (making grants or planning events).
And you can do this seasonally (so you don’t have burnout!).
I have met the nicest and most interesting people in the 106-person squad who make up the current list of For Farmers Champions. They are earnest and all have different levels of engagement and interests. It’s meant to be for individuals who want to help and care deeply to make a difference and to lend their power to farmers across the country.
You can become a champion here with just a few little clicks. It's that easy!
It doesn't take a lot of heavy lifting to help farmers or to be involved in the For Farmers Movement. You just have to care a little bit. And I know you do. So pick any of the five easy ways to make a big impact. And when you do, share this post with someone else you know who will care too.
Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.