Wintery weather - and fallen barns - putting local food systems to the test

Talk to any New Englander, and this is probably the worst winter they've experienced. I, like anyone else, can commiserate about the winter thus far, but, if you've been following local food culture over the past few weeks, you'll find that winter has been equally trying and even devastating for farmers. But, this winter has also proven the strength of local food communities...

Barn fire at Pete's Greens
(image from Pete's Greens)
On Jan. 12, 2011, Pete's Greens, a four seasons vegetable farm in Craftsbury, VT, lost its central barn as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and food in an early-morning fire. It didn't take long for farm CSA members and locals from the community to get behind farmer Pete Johnson and his farm. Information made available through the The Center for an Agricultural Economy, a farm dinner at Applecheek Farm and a community-wide "Bid for the Barn" online auction (organized by the Mad River Valley Localvore Project) were all efforts that proved to be successful, both in raising money for Pete's Greens in its rebuilding efforts and bringing the community together in a time of crisis. It's truly inspirational that these groups and individuals tapped into their respective talents in order to stand behind a local producer in need.

Collapsed greenhouse @ Topmost Herb Farm in Coventry.
(Image from Topmost Herb Farm)
Connecticut is no stranger to damaging weather - just look at the damage to over 300 farm buildings, as reported by the Hartford Courant. On Jan. 3, 2011, Topmost Herb Farm in Conventry, CT lost its greenhouse - where beloved herb and tomato plants begin their life - to the weight of snow and ice. It took only a few hours for the food community in the Coventry area to rally around Topmost. The Facebook wall for the Coventry Farmers' Market was abuzz with information, questions and outpourings of support for the farm. Already in the works: A "Grow the Greenhouse" work party, planned for tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 12, 10-12) and a collection of goods, services and donations for an eventual online auction.

The following statement may sound stupid, but it needs to be said: These events are vivid reminders that farming is indeed a year-round occupation, lifestyle and way of life. It's totally dependent on the seasons, and, more importantly, upon the livelihood of the farm's community network. What I admire most about farmers is that don't - nor can they afford to - wallow in the past. They keep moving, especially if they want to survive, and they must rely on the positivity and love of those around them to ensure the longevity of their farms.

Don't know how to show your love this Valentine's Day? Well I do! Support your local farmer (collapsed barn or not), of course! Farmers' markets are indeed in many locations this winter, so check them out (there's lots of good gift ideas there as well...)