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Farms benefit from demand for local produce

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Local farmers markets and community-supported agriculture networks have been cropping up across St. Lawrence County over the past several years as more people discover value, both for their health and their wallet, in locally grown produce.

“The burgeoning trend in locally grown and produced items — from beer to beef to maple syrup — is great economically and also increasing our tourism,” said Alison Power, tourism, marketing and outreach coordinator with the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. “Plus, it truly adds to the quality of life up here.”

According to GardenShare, a nonprofit organization based in Canton, the number of farmers markets has doubled since 2009, from five to 10.

“Farmers markets are exploding all over the country,” said Aviva Gold, executive director of GardenShare. “I think there is a lot of interest in people connecting with their food system.”

CSAs also are thriving in the county as households seek more fresh food and a closer connection with their supplier.

CSAs are partnerships between farmers and individuals who buy a membership at the year’s beginning. Then, throughout the year, members receive fresh food.

Marie L. Cook, co-owner of C.L. Cook Farms in Heuvelton, reported growth in her farm’s CSA membership over the past three years.

“The first year, we took on five CSA members, just to see how it would go and see if it was something we could do,” she said. “We were nervous to see if we could actually provide for all shareholders and still maintain a quality of crops. The next year, we took on 15. This past year, we took on 40.”

“The biggest advantage for us is that we have a secure market for our produce,” said Megan L. Kent, co-owner of Kent Family Growers in Lisbon.

Her farm has a CSA network that includes 125 members from across the county.

Farmers markets in the county are seeing similar growth.

Sandra M. Porter, manager of the Ogdensburg GreenMarket and executive director of the Greater Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce, said the market in the Maple City “just grows every year.”

Because of consumer demand, the GreenMarket is now open Thursdays in addition to Saturdays to ensure access.

While the market in Ogdensburg has stayed roughly the same size since it began five years ago, with about 25 vendors, “They’ve all expanded what they bring to market,” Ms. Porter said.

Farmers markets are also attempting to attract residents of communities that traditionally have been left out when it comes to fresh foods.

“Our big focus right now is on increasing access to lower-income families,” Ms. Gold said.

To aid that effort, she said, three farmers markets in the county accept food stamps: Canton, Ogdensburg and Potsdam.

At Canton and Potsdam, GardenShare has been able to offer $1.50 of produce for every $1 spent in food stamps.

A similar program used to operate in Ogdensburg until state funding ran out.

Women, Infants and Children coupons also are accepted in Ogdensburg, although Ms. Porter said they are not being used enough.

Additionally, farmers market coupons from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets are available for senior citizens who meet income guidelines, said Nancy A. Robert, director of the county’s Office for the Aging.

The coupon booklets cost $20 and include offers for fruits and vegetables.

“We started out the season (in July) with 680 coupon booklets that are redeemable at the local farmers markets,” Ms. Robert said. “There are 70 to 80 left now.”

“Eligible seniors know and they appreciate this value,” she said. “It’s double-fold. The market also gives them opportunities for socialization.”

Farmers markets and CSAs are both looking for ways to keep operating into the winter.

The Ogdensburg GreenMarket, for example, moves into the First Presbyterian Church on Ford Street to avoid having to shutter until Dec. 15.

Kent Family Growers also has introduced a winter share for its CSA that begins in the fall and runs until March, offering root crops and frozen vegetables and berries as part of a new venture experiment.

As far as farmers markets are concerned, however, Ms. Gold believes the county has reached saturation.

“I don’t know that we necessarily need more,” she said. “We need more producers at each market to grow the supply that we have. Strengthening the markets that we already have is probably the direction that we would like to go in in St. Lawrence County.”

As for CSAs, Ms. Cook said, “It has definitely not reached its peak.”

Her farm has actually had to turn customers down.

“My concern is, can we keep up with how many actually want a CSA? I think the more, the better. Like anything else, when there’s competition, you’re going to be on your A-game doing the best you can do to serve your members,” Mrs. Cook said.

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