On a recent trip to New York, I spent an afternoon at a farmers market in Union Square. It’s a very busy market - held twice a week - and the farmers mainly come from upstate New York and New Jersey.

While some had hired a person to man their stand, many were manned by the farmers themselves and we had some great conversations about farming in Ireland and America.

All of the farmers there had moved away from selling through large distributors to selling at markets, through co-ops or directly into local shops.

The reasons for this varied from low prices and a lack of long-term contracts to wanting to have more control over their farm and product. Many also cited the desire to be recognised as primary food producers who care about their stock and the environment; a message they feel is lost when part of a giant distribution company.

To quote one farmer, “When a customer buys milk from a store, they don’t know if it’s from my farm with 300 cows, or the 10,000ac factory farm. I want them to know the difference.”

This pride in their farm was a common thread, and one they were all looking for opportunities in which to share and make the consumer more aware.


I asked if environmental rules and new practices were having an impact on their production and profits. My mentioning the word profit brought a few grim smiles! Most said that many of the environmental measures they were now obliged to do were practices they or their parents were instructed to stop doing fifty years ago.

Most were happy to take on the new practices, but felt the law-makers and general public had no idea of the cost and labour implications and that, in most cases, the additional costs were not reflected in higher prices.

How they farm, how their animals are treated and the story of their family farm is one they feel no longer has a place in the media, and thus is lost to the consumer.


What struck me, also, was the level of farm diversification. No stand sold just one product. The apple farmer had 20 different varieties of apples, but also sold apple juice, apple cider vinegar, apple jelly and even apple pies.

The water buffalo farmer sold packaged meat in various forms as well as mozzarella cheese, yogurt, labneh, ricotta, raw milk, pasteurized milk and kefir. Another famer was selling eggs, chicken, lamb, duck, venison, beef, pork meat and also sausages, salamis and other preserved meats.

They had all set up processing units on their farms with one or two sharing facilities. While some were certified organic, many sold under different labels such as grass-fed cows, roaming-free chickens, no-GM feed and there were even a few ‘farmed by women’!

I asked all I spoke to about the rise in people choosing to eat vegan and the public perception around farming. While some were quite despondent and said they couldn’t see the next generation continue to farm, many came back to the need for a public awareness campaign for small scale and family farms, and their roles in sustainable rural communities.

They are frustrated that the message is always negative in relation to dairy and meat farming. They know that consumers see pictures of badly treated animals or thousands of cows in feedlots and don’t want to support that.

However, they wonder how the same consumers happily eat avocados or lentils without any idea of the impact mass production of these products is having on local environments and biodiversity.

I left the market full of the finest produce, stories waiting to be told and even a few hugs. I wonder who will be there, under those awnings, in ten years’ time?

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