Or, What the COVID-19 Toilet Paper Crisis Tells Us about the Essential Nature of Local Food Supplies
By Tara Smith, for Historic Kennett Square
All of us have reckoned in some way over the past few months with our dependence on food and goods shipped in from across the country and around the world. Many of us experienced panic, fear, and even indignation when products we’d been used to tossing into our shopping carts, physical or virtual, were suddenly unavailable. It’s not an easy reckoning, but perhaps it’s been a salutary one. An awakened awareness of the fragility of our global supply chains, and of the critical importance of growing and sourcing food in our local context, has many benefits—not the least of which has been a growing appreciation, here in our own community, for the Kennett Square Farmers Market.
When the shutdown began in March, one of the most rapid pivots in our community might have been that of Historic Kennett Square employees Ros Fenton, Market Manager, and Claire Murray, Main Street Manager. Because the state of Pennsylvania recognizes farmers market as “essential” and “life-sustaining,” they were able to reconfigure the market—first in the parking lot behind Kennett Library and then in a larger space for the summer season at The Creamery. Their goals were to keep everyone safe while continuing to support local farmers and producers and give the community access to fresh food direct from local farms.
In this respect, Kennett Square is part of a much larger national and international movement. “The events of 2020 have highlighted the resiliency and adaptability of farmers markets while emphasizing the need for investment in local food systems,” says the Farmers Market Coalition. “Now, more than ever, farmers markets are essential.” Here are a few of the reasons why:
- In uncertain times, local food supplies are more certain. The fewer steps between a commodity’s source and the consumer, the less fragile the system. Barring growing food ourselves or going to a farm, farmers markets provide the most direct access to food. Food safety is also more certain when we meet the person who grows or produces the food we’re eating. We can trust that it’s fresh and hasn’t been handled and stored by multiple intermediaries en route to our tables. The “fine produce home grown with love” that Douglas and Elizabeth Randolph bring to the market each Friday began the day growing on the vine at their Swallow Hill Farm in Cochranville.
- Buying local food stimulates the local economy. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, farmers receive only 15 cents of every dollar that consumers spend at traditional food outlets. At a farmers market, 100 per cent of every food dollar goes to the farmers to support their farms and households. They, in turn, tend to source the products they need from local suppliers. If you read the labels of many locally made products you’ll see not only ingredients you can pronounce, but also the names of makers you know. This kind of integrated local support creates more jobs and helps to build a dynamic local cycle that’s less susceptible in general to the vicissitudes of external market forces.
- Buying local food is another way to vote to conserve land. Preserving land resources might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering what to have for dinner, but supporting local farmers helps to preserve the land and culture of working farms here in the rich farmlands of Southern Chester County. Any farmer will tell you that dirt is not just dirt, and part of the work that farmers market customers help sustain is restoring and maintaining soil health. Tim and Frances Crowhill-Sauder of Fiddle Creek Dairy not only make yoghurt that garners rave reviews from local chefs and customers alike, but they’re also focused on restoring the health of the soil on the 55-acre farm they own and steward in Quarryville. Farmland preservation is also, of course, part of a larger conversation about how population density and the kind of development that fosters walkable communities (like much of Kennett Square) increases the land available for growing food.
- Farmers markets help build community and connect us to place. Above and beyond the social interaction that many coming-out-of-lockdown people are craving right now, talking with those who grow and produce what we eat increases our understanding and enlarges our perspective. We find out there’s no more asparagus because of an early frost, and we learn ways we can preserve bumper crops of tomatoes or peppers for the winter months. When we buy sweet corn from Ben King of Breezy Acre Flowers in Nottingham, we know it’s chemical free because of his own journey through health problems. This year, his August harvest of corn tastes even sweeter because nature took its toll on his first planting.
- Fresh, local food is healthier—and it tastes better, too. The ultimate taste test is setting a supermarket carrot against a carrot from Flying Plow Farm in Rising Sun, Maryland. It’s hard to imagine they’re even the same vegetable. Seasonality is a significant factor, too. Eating in season means holding off on tomatoes until the sun ripens them on the vine sometime, depending on the weather and a whole host of other factors, in July. We savor the first strawberry or peach of the season because we’ve waited all year to taste them again.
Many states and cities across the country organize “eat local for a month” challenges. It can be more of a challenge than it seems—both in terms of tracing the origins of much of what we eat in a typical day as well as finding ways to prepare what’s available locally. If ever there’s a time to take up the eat local challenge, or even the “eat more local” challenge in southeastern Pennsylvania, the time is now. Celebrate National Farmers Market Week by sourcing an abundance of options for delicious, healthy, and sustainable week of meals at the Kennett Square Farmers Market.
The Kennett Square Farmers Market is a program of Historic Kennett Square, a 501c3 nonprofit. Pivoting the Farmers Market to ensure safety for all with COVID-19 restrictions has entailed many additional expenses this season. If you love the Farmers Market and want to help ensure it’s here better than ever next season, consider celebrating National Farmers Market Week by supporting the Market here and choosing “Farmers Market” from the dropdown menu.