Seeing farm-to-table on a restaurant menu has almost become passé. Remember when you could count on one hand the number of restaurants in the county proclaiming to source ingredients from local farms? Now, it’s almost impossible to keep track of the new ones opening up.
As the number of farm-to-table restaurants has grown, so have the numbers of farmers markets, community gardens and community shared agriculture programs. Five years ago, when I first subscribed to a season’s worth of produce from a local farm, the CSA options were slim pickings. This year, there were at least a half dozen with delivery options within five miles of my Nassau County home to choose from. And there are more ways than ever before to get local food. Farm to fork catering companies have sprouted up around the area and entrepreneurial-minded individuals have created slow food delivery services.
Back then, I wondered how sustainable the local food movement would last, if it were just a fad. But according to a recently released report the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) local and regional food sales totaled $6.1 billion in 2012, up almost 40 percent from the last report of 2008 numbers.
No longer a fad, society seems to have accepted that local food is good for community. The farming that goes along with local food preserves open space. The food is fresher and healthier when it doesn’t have to travel as far and it supports local economies.
Long Island is home to more than 38,000 acres of farmland producing more than 100 products and around the state farming is flourishing with farmers taking in a sales record in the most recently released numbers. Of course, much of that comes from the increase in the total number of manufacturers producing alcoholic beverages.
But joining CSAs, eating at those passé farm to table restaurants and buying from the farmers market or the farm stand only helps to increase the overall growth. According to the USDA report, 7.8 percent of US farmers marketed foods locally, either direct to consumer or intermediated sales of food for human consumption. While the local food movement continues to grow it is also becoming less of a rich person’s mindset. Food access programs for senior citizens and school children and for SNAP participants have become more common around the country. Still, there are many areas around the country and on Long Island that struggle with access to healthy food.
As farmers markets prepare to open for the season it’s important to remember not all local farms are organic and some follow organic practices but aren’t certified. The best bet is to ask the farmer and eat in season. Find the farmer’s market closet to you and learn about what’s in season here