As winter approaches, local farmers face challenges
By Meagan McGinnes
Crunch. Crunch. Leaves of fire crisp under footsteps. Hills are covered in gold. Brisk air fills lungs like a breath of life. Harvests are plentiful. Autumn is a time of wonder.
Playing football or Frisbee on the quad, students of Ithaca College frantically celebrate autumn in all of its glory before winter arrives with its frigid embrace. However, as we students eat our apple and pumpkin everything, we tend not to appreciate the efforts taken to produce these delicious fall treats.
Local Ithaca farmers work all spring to prepare and plant crops, all summer to grow and care for them, and all autumn to reap their rewards. Many sell their produce at the Ithaca Farmers Market, where students hurry to indulge before the turn of the season. Yet, we forget that winter’s arrival is not only difficult for students, but also for these farmers. As fall ends, farmers have much to prepare for.
It is a perfect autumn day at the farmers market. I take a closer look at the farmers behind the stands.
“I love when we start in the greenhouse with the plants and the seeds, just getting everything going, but if I had my choice I’d rather be [working] outside,” said Alison Wiley of Butternut Creek Flower Farm.
Hard labor manifests itself as calluses and weathered skin. It is the understanding of diligent work, of simple things in life and of sincere relationships with customers, that brings these local farmers to life. It is clear through these porthole eyes that they have seen both happiness and struggles.
With the chill in the air becoming ever-present, winter seems closer than ever. Shelley MacDonald, owner of MacDonald Farms, said before the winter strikes she will have to harvest all of her produce from the fields, store all of it and then sell it before it goes bad if she wants to make a profit.
“I imagine I’ll be working in the field until December,” MacDonald said.
She rushes to help other customers to make as many sales as possible. Her friendly smile masks the worry and stress of the winter season.
This same anxiety floods the eyes of local farmer Janet Mandeville of Mandeville Farm. For her, winter also proves to be a challenge. Chinese cabbage is still in the field. This leafy crop will freeze, and profit will be lost if the weather continues to turn cold too quickly.
Mandeville Farm also sells produce to Wegmans. The grocery store recently had a dinner for all the local farmers who sell to them.
“That was really nice; it shows they really appreciate you,” Mandeville said.
More hardworking hands are needed; however, this requires more funds with which to pay these workers. It is a vicious cycle. MacDonald has her sons and their friends work during this more labor-intensive time in order to beat Mother Nature to the punch.
Even in these times of trouble, local farmers put in the effort to give back to the community. In addition to providing healthy produce, some of these farmers donate what they do not sell to local food shelters. Mandeville donates all of her winter squash left over after the selling season.
Chris Bickford from Early Morning Farm describes his farm as community-supported agriculture. This means locals can buy a share of the farm at the start of the season and receive a share of food each week. This is only one way local farmers assist in creating a sustainable lifestyle, and it helps to ensure that farmers will have steady, upfront profits.
Walking around this market of organic food and fresh air, the interaction between the local farmers and their customers is one of true camaraderie.
“My favorite part about this job is interacting with the people,” Steve Kettelle of Hendy Hollow Organic Farm said.
The buyers are more than just customers; some are friends. They joke. They laugh. Local farmers take the time to get to know the regulars they see every week. At the Early Morning Farm stand, a customer even took the time to tell me about the amazing quality of their produce and friendliness of workers.
These farmers are an essential part of Ithaca community building. As a new member of the Ithaca community, I will remember not to complain about walking to class or being a little chilly as I watch the snow start to fall outside my dorm window. Local farmers are dealing with many greater concerns, and they are not complaining. They focus now on the diligent work needed to close the season and look ahead to next year’s growing season, all the while smiling through their porthole eyes.
Meagan McGinnes is a freshman journalism major, E-I-E-I-O. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.