Whether you want to lose weight or just live a healthier lifestyle, what you eat matters and more people are paying closer attention to where their food comes from. As part of a food movement, consumers have ditched grocery stores in favor of farm fresh products. As a result of an increasing demand for locally-grown fruits and vegetables there has been an increase in farmer’s markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of direct-sales markets increased 9.6 percent in the past year.
“These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods,” said Kathleen Merrigan, USDA Deputy Secretary.
Maria Baldwin, a South Carolina farmer, grew up on a North Carolina farm, traveled the world and learned about different farming techniques. For the past five years, she’s worked to make Thornhill Farm, in McClellanville, S.C., different from conventional crops.
“We have 10 acres of vegetable production that is certified organic” said Baldwin. “We raise both livestock and vegetables on the same farm.”
As of the end of 2011, 17,281 organic farms and processing facilities in the United States were certified to the USDA, that’s a 240% increase since 2002. In order to receive an official certified organic seal, farmers must meet USDA standards. The federal government established a strict set of guidelines to regulate how farmers can grow, handle and process food. Baldwin said when planting crops, she focuses on the integrity and health of the soil.
“In everything we do, we keep in mind that we have to improve the condition of our soil and make it more nutrient rich” she said.
Conventional farming practices often use chemicals to promote plant growth, manage weeds and get rid of pests. Organic farmers use rotations to manage crop and employ manure and compost to fertilize the soil. Instead of keeping animals in chicken houses or barns, organic farmers, like Baldwin, allow their livestock to roam outdoors.
“Certifications require organic farmers to separate animals from the production fields and make sure fruits and vegetables are washed before they leave the farm” said Baldwin.
In an effort to spread the word about locally-grown organic products, Baldwin’s farming operation participates in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA’s allow consumers to purchase advance shares of a farm’s production in return for regular (usually weekly) deliveries during the growing season. According to the USDA, the popularity of CSA operations jumped from an estimated 60 operations in 1990 to approximately 3,600 operations as of 2010.
South Carolinian Martha Adams is part of this food movement. She said the CSA’s delivery service is convenient, provides healthy options and helps her mix up her dinner routine.
“I didn’t grow up eating collards but when I had a big bag of them I had to find something to do with them” she said.” I knew they were good for you and had a lot of vitamins but I didn’t know they tasted good.”
When it comes to making Farm Stand succotash and other meals, Adams said she feels good knowing exactly where the food on her table was grown.
“I know that all I am eating is the food. I am not eating chemicals or hormone or anything else that I didn’t sign up for” said Adams.
To find out more about Baldwin’s Community Supported Agriculture program visit http://ourlocalfoods.com/products-page-2
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