Friday, June 24, 2016

Farmer Friday - Circle G Farm

This week, intern Amanda visits Circle G Farm.  Located in Hammond, the farm sells at both the Hammond and the Canton Farmers Markets.  This time she shot some video to accompany her report.

To say I feel nervous every time I step out of my car onto a new farm is an understatement. Here I am, a college intern, being nosey about a person’s livelihood. Not just any person, but a farmer whose occupation revolves around the very precious daylight hours that I am taking. Raised on a farm myself, I understand what that is like. I’m honestly surprised I haven’t been declined yet!

Nerves aside, when I got out of my car at Circle G Farm in Hammond, I had the same feeling of comfort that I experience when I return home from college. Mary-Ellen Blatchley, co-owner, brushed dirt off her hands from weeding her aesthetically pleasing rows of greens, greeted me, and then introduced me to her husband, George. Together, they grow about thirty different vegetables, and they do so because they simply love to garden. George exclaimed, “Sometimes I like to grow them [the vegetables] more than I like to eat them!”

Shortly after retiring in 2012, George and Mary-Ellen built a sugar house where they invite local community groups, like the 4-H club, to help with the sugaring of 35-40 gallons of syrup a year. George is an active member of the St. Lawrence County Maple Producers Association. Outside of the sticky saccharine season, the sugar house is a hub for garden activity.

Their garden began one-eighth of the current size above their house. As with the Fuller Farm, somehow gardens began sprouting up wherever there was room. The gardens used to be NOFA Certified Organic; however, the extensive paperwork, time and cost made the legal process no longer feasible. After both touring the land and listening to the couple talk, I am certain George and Mary-Ellen are firm activists in organic practices. They are against the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and are committed to the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge. 2016 marks the fourth year marketing their surplus garden at the farmers markets. I say surplus because George and Mary-Ellen’s bottom line isn’t profit; rather, the couple promotes the dogma of healthy affordable food.

George and Mary-Ellen, after giving a tour of their land, invited me into their home. Again, I felt like I knew them both for years by the way they put me at ease. George mentioned how over coffee that morning he disturbingly discovered “40% of food is wasted in America alone, yet 35% of Americans are considered obese.” Mary-Ellen was equally troubled: “One-third of children [in the US] are hungry, and I find that appalling. We find programs like WIC and SNAP help alleviate this.” Both George and Mary-Ellen have undergone WIC training. What is more, they accept SNAP/EBT at their farmers market stand. Yet, George and Mary-Ellen take the issue of hunger in the North Country one step closer.

Often “organic” translates in the consumer’s mind (and wallet) not to the farming practices involved, but rather to a higher price. Mary-Ellen and George recognize many consumers opt for the cheaper conventional head of lettuce instead of their six-ounce spring mix as an upshot. To bridge this gap, Mary-Ellen regularly visits grocery stores like Wal-Mart to match her prices with shelf prices. Doing so encourages all shoppers to purchase from the market instead of from the corporate counterpart.

Jeff Bridge, head of Food for Children, recently stated how people are choosing, “easy food instead of smart food.”  Offering organic food at commodity prices is another way Circle G Farm attempts to alter that mindset, similar to GardenShare’s mission. Families aside, George said the elderly are too often forgotten about when discussing food security. Using nutrition assistance programs at markets is often difficult for the elderly; not many markets sell small quantities of fresh produce- an important factor when one lives alone, has a small appetite, or doesn’t want to eat an ear of corn every night for dinner. Mary and George understand many markets sell items like sweet corn either by the half or full dozen. “If they want one ear of corn, we sell them one ear. Our WIC/SNAP people get their money’s worth in checks and tokens, but we always slip in a little more.”

The side comments like that last line above were what drew me to Circle G Farm. The humble honesty and willingness to help the community stuck out as mains principals. Before I left (with three jars of Mary-Ellen’s famous jam no less), George looked me in the eyes and said, “We are lucky to be educated. We aren’t struggling. We do this because we like to garden, we like to grow [our food]. We are fortunate to not be hand to mouth. Growing food is the right thing to do, but you can only can/freeze so much.” And thus their surplus is sold to the market with their beliefs and care in tow.