Editor's Note Fall 2015

Dairy farmer picking up potatoes on his farm near Fairfield, Vermont, September 1941.
Dairy farmer picking up potatoes on his farm near Fairfield, Vermont, September 1941

Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

August 19 , 2015

I’m writing this in early August, on the heels of Vermont Open Farm Week—seven days during which 75 farms, orchards, vineyards, distilleries, and nurseries opened their doors to the public for a concentrated week of public outreach. Similarly, later this month, Vermont Breakfast on the Farm will launch, bringing visitors to local dairy farms for a tour and a hearty breakfast.

Some of the farms participating in these two initiatives rarely receive visitors. Others see people all the time: when customers come by to pick up CSA shares, purchase raw milk, buy food from the farm stand, or stay overnight as B&B guests.

It’s heartening when local food enthusiasts make an effort to see the places where their food comes from. It can certainly be fun to visit a farm, but it also takes a bit of preparation: finding the farm, finding the proper boots to wear, and in some cases even finding the time. Farmers, for their part, tend to be grateful when folks show an interest in their work by stopping by. Farming can be isolating; having guests is a welcome respite from daily chores.

But farm visits can also be challenging for both customers and farmers. If you’ve never been on a farm before, you might be taken aback by parts of it that don’t look so good, by seeing animals in stalls, or by noticing farm machinery when you expected a more pastoral scene. Your visual experience might clash with your longtime notions of what a farm should look like or how it should operate.

And for farmers, having visitors can sometimes be a struggle. On a busy day, they may have to take time to explain to visitors why those animals are in stalls, or what that farm machinery does, or why they haven’t had time to tidy out the back of the barn. Visitors might offer to help with chores, not knowing that farm work is often highly specialized, and their offer will have to be rebuffed.Misunderstandings or differing opinions about animal welfare may cause tension.

I once heard a conventional dairy farmer tell an amusing story of a visitor to his farm. The visitor was enjoying what he saw on his tour. But when the farmer began talking about the artificial insemination of his cows, the visitor became angry, saying, “See? This is why so many people are getting cancer! Everything is artificial!

To understand farming, consumers must recognize that certain practices are in place for certain reasons. We should not make assumptions about those practices based on our first visual reaction, but should find out the details before forming an opinion. Farmers, for their part, will hopefully always be grateful for the interest people take in their farms, no matter how unfamiliar people are with farming. Patience and compassion are key. There is no shortcut to understanding, or explaining, an agricultural system.

We do our best at Local Banquet to help foster relationships between eaters and farmers. So enjoy this issue, and then, perhaps, pull out an old pair of boots and go visit a local farm!

About the Author

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels is the editor of Local Banquet and the founder-editor of Humaneitarian.org, a website that inspires people to buy and eat humanely raised meat.

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Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply.