Local farms mean local food security. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted huge failings of the industrial food system. When people were unable to source food from their regular grocery stores, they turned to our local farmers who were growing an abundance of fresh, nutritious, and delicious produce and meats. Supporting these farms now ensures they will still be here to provide us food in the future — whether we are in times of crisis or stability. Local production and community strength is the ultimate emergency preparedness plan!
The USDA estimates that farmers only receive 14.4 cents of each food dollar spent, down from 20 cents in 1999. Food processing, transportation, packaging, and energy account for nearly three times that amount. Buying directly from farmers allows them to retain more of the food dollar and reduces the costs of packaging and middle-men, making our small farms more economically viable.
Our local farmers are also our community members and neighbors. They care about creating a healthy and thriving Lehigh Valley. Their kids go to school with your kids, and they support other local businesses because they know how important it is to communities. Local farms provide open spaces, maintain bucolic rural vistas, and continue the agricultural traditions of our region. With each local food purchase, more of our food dollars go directly to local farmers, ensuring that family farms in the Lehigh Valley continue to be economically viable, and that farmland and nutritious, flavorful food will be available for future generations in both times of calm and times of crisis.
The takeaway: Farmers are part of our community. By ensuring they are able to make a living farming, we are ensured that food production stays local and decentralized so farmers can feed us in the good times and the bad!
LOSS OF FARMS IN THE GREATER LEHIGH VALLEY
Every five years, the United State Department of Agriculture conducts a census. Local numbers from the 2017 survey show a striking need to support local agriculture and farmland preservation efforts:
- We are losing farms. Lehigh County lost 105 farms since the 2012 (21% decrease) and now has 381 farms remaining. Northampton County lost 39 farms since the 2012 (7% decrease) and has 459 farm operations remaining.
- We are losing farmland. The Lehigh Valley has lost more than 80% of its farms and 53% of its farmland in the past century. Remaining Lehigh County farmland as of the census totalled 74,511 acres (down 23% since the 1997 census; a loss of 22,989 acres, and in Northampton County, remaining farmland as of the census totalled 59,195 acres (down 30% since the 1997 census; loss of 25,444 acres).
- Farmers are aging. In Lehigh County, 64% of producers are older than 55, with 34% older than 65; 32% of producers are younger than 45 with 9% younger than 35. In Northampton County, 62% of producers are older than 55 years old with 32% older than 65. 36% of producers are younger than 45 with 9% younger than 35.