These days, more Americans who are able are turning to their local farms as reliable food sources in the face of Instacart and Amazon strikes and often-bare shelves at many grocery stores. Many farmers have adapted their sales models to include more digital pre-pyament, delivery, and pickup options.
But if you’ve never visited a farm or purchased food from a farmer, it can seem daunting. Grocery stores are familiar one stop shops for most; farms can be pretty alien in comparison, depending on where you live. Questions like How do you find a farm near you? What are their hours? Do I just show up or what? and others can swirl through your mind.
This article will help clear up questions for both farm first-timers and people who just want to source more food locally.
How to support farmers
There are a variety of options, depending on the farmer and the current status of what is considered an essential business in your state. No matter how, be sure to observe social distancing guidelines, avoid touching the food unless you are buying it, and follow overall hygiene recommendations.
- Farm-based shops and farmer’s markets
Visiting a farm allows you to not only meet the farmer but see firsthand the personality of their farm. It can give you an eye-opening look into the hard work, long hours, and beauty that is farming.
Farmer’s markets may offer a more convenient and accessible option for you, depending on where you live and your available transportation options. Many also accept WIC and SNAP for foods, bringing fresh food to people on a budget.
- Online/phone ordering and delivery
Due to social distancing measures, more farms are moving to an online or phone ordering system. Get online or call ahead to place your orders. They can then be picked up at the farm or delivered to your home. This saves you time and eliminates excess contact with farm workers and visitors.
Farming is definitely a gamble, with so many aspects that determine a successful season beyond control–rainfall, heat, frost, pests, etc. A CSA (community supported agriculture) is basically a farm subscription service; you select the plan you want, pay the CSA fee (often before the growing season), and then get weekly pickups or deliveries from your local farm.
This model helps farmers to offset some of the initial costs of the season and ensures you will have a steady supply of delicious fresh food. Check with your local farms–produce is the most common type of CSA but some also offer meats, honey, herbs, flowers, and more. You may be surprised to discover that some farms also produce their own bug spray, lip balm, candles, and more. I know my local lavender farm makes my very favorite lip balm–forget you, Chap Stick!
- Social media and online reviews
Follow farms on social media and be active–like, comment, and share their posts and use hashtags when posting photos. This allows them to reach a far wider audience and bring in business. Give the farm or their products a positive review online (and save negative/improvement feedback for emails or in-person feedback). Many small farms do not have a budget for advertising or PR so they rely on social media and grassroots support.
- Make a resolution and stick to it
You know that old saying, the perfect is the enemy of the good? Some people may notice the price difference between buying from a local farm and shopping at their local grocery, throw up their hands in despair, proclaim, “It’s just too expensive!” and abandon the idea of buying local.
If you’re on a budget, take a look at how much wiggle room you have and designate a certain amount that you will commit to buy each week or each month from a farm. You could also consider what food products you would most appreciate from a local farm–for me, that’s eggs and meat, but do what works for you.
Some visitors to farms may not fully comprehend that the farm is not just a business; it’s also home to the farmers. Even though it may look like an inviting field you can just take a stroll through, practice some empathy and awareness.
- Don’t just show up
Check a farm’s website or social media page for their hours or call ahead and check. If the farm is closed when you arrive (sometimes the unexpected can occur and there may be an unscheduled closing), do not decide to explore on your own, take photos or hang out. Just come back another day.
- Read and follow signage
Certain areas may be off-limits or you may need to stay on paths to avoid seedlings, for example. These signs keep you safe and help the farmer to do their job. If you have a young child with you that may not understand, please keep a close eye on them.
- Follow farmer requests
There may be rules against bringing pets, outside food/beverages, or smoking. Farmers have good reasons for these guidelines; we are basically visitors in their home, so be respectful.
- Care about the property
Do not pick flowers unless you are at the farm for that specific purpose; if everyone picked the flowers, the plants may not fruit and you are removing the beauty of the surroundings. Don’t deface any surfaces like trees or walls with graffiti or carving. If you are on a pick-your-own farm, make sure you purchase your food before eating since every ounce and pound adds up. Drive slowly on gravel surfaces to keep dust down and the rocks on the road. Just tread lightly.
- Clean up your trash
If you have packed a picnic, bought a drink, or finished a snack, make sure you throw trash in the correct receptacle when you are finished. Don’t litter and don’t leave your trash for someone else to clean off your table. Can’t find a trash or recycling bin handy? Take it with you and dispose of it at home.
- Buy something
Farms are beautiful and their animals are cute but they are also a business. Avoid visiting a farm just to take photos or go for a walk; be sure to purchase a product before you leave. If you don’t need anything, consider buying a gift card for later or something as a surprise or gift for someone you know.
So how do you find a farm or farmer’s market near you? How do you find out what farms are offering CSAs? Below are resources to help you get started.
National searchable directory of farms, farmers’ markets, pick your own, farmsteads, and more.
Montgomery Countryside Alliance, Community Supported Agriculture
Non-profit advocate for Montgomery County, Maryland’s Agricultural Reserve with a helpful page that includes a CSA quiz, a video overview of what CSAs are, and more fun and informative resources.
Montgomery County Food Council’s Montgomery County, Maryland Annual Food & Beverage Guide
Non-profit organization focused on creating a “robust, sustainable, equitable local food system” with a guide to locally grown and produced items, including meat, honey, baked goods, and more.
All local and small businesses, including farms, can use extra support at this time. Take a couple hours to do some brainstorming and research and then jump right in.
Not only will you be able to savor delicious food but also the satisfaction of making a difference in your local economy and environment. As food journalist Michael Pollan notes, “Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. And we nourish all those things when we do it well.”
Thank you for reading this post on supporting and visiting local farms.
What is your favorite local farm or farm product? Please share in a comment.
- Want to discover more about local farms? Check out my posts on Soleado Lavender Farm, Button Farm Living History Center, and Fox Haven Farm & Learning Center.
- Visit my shop to purchase my downloadable cookbooklet, “A Taste of Lavender” for just one dollar.
- If you like what I do here, please follow my blog, comment on my posts, and share them on social media–I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks!
Ahhh, thank you for this! When I first moved to rural Montgomery County in 2003 I was hesitant to go to local farms because I just wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to come up the driveway unannounced! Now, social media makes it very easy to inquire in advance. I often message farmers about their current products and prices to make sure I’m going to a farm that has what I need at a price I am able to pay. I have found several farms with prices that are consistent with or only slightly higher than I might pay at a conventional grocery store. Worth an extra few dollars for the freshness and quality!
My favorite farm is R.B. Savage and Sons in Dickerson. Their prices are very reasonable. I buy eggs there for about $3/doz and their meat is about what I would pay at a conventional grocery if I didn’t get it on sale. The freshness and quality is outstanding! Plus, they are a wonderful family who know me by name now and always go above and beyond to make me feel welcome on their farm. They have a farm store with convenient hours and they will accommodate you by appointment if you need to come at another time.
Thank you, Vicki, so true!