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Kicking Off September's "Locavore Challenge" at the Regional Marketplace

two men stand under a white tent and talk with a female customer over a table displaying earns of corn
Hannah Warren

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York has issued a challenge for the month of September: eat as locally and organically as possible to support businesses and sustainable farming in your community. The “Locavore Challenge” involves everything from shopping for local and thoughtfully-grown produce at the market to experimenting with various preservation methods like freezing, canning and fermentation. 
The Regional Farmers Market is the first stop in a series where we document some of the local farms, businesses, and ideas that are shaping the locavore landscape in Central New York.

The farmers’ market is home to a huge array of food vendors every Saturday morning - from wholesale operations that re-sell grocery store overstock at low prices, to farms of all different sizes and descriptions which grow all the produce they sell. While the greater Syracuse area has its fair share of “food deserts” - neighborhoods where it’s difficult to find healthy, affordable food within a mile radius (a short walk for most people when public transportation is unavailable), the Regional Farmers’ Market can help people access a wide variety of healthy produce. 

Bernie Schader of Schader Farms in Kirkville, New York, is a second-generation farmer who is not certified organic, but says he uses pesticides only when absolutely necessary. He scouts his fields regularly, walking in the rows of produce to check any insect activity every five days or so, and making decisions on whether to spray the produce from concerns he notices. 
Schader farms grows everything they sell from the ground up, as opposed to some organic-certified farmers who are forced to buy their young tomato plants from greenhouses, because the plants would never survive out in an open field with the threats of bugs and blights.
Bernie says he has taken some measures to make his produce appeal to local-conscious and buyers concerned with genetically-modified food. He used to grow a kind of corn called “BT” which is produced with a pesticide inside the plant’s cell structure. The corn grows with built-in resistance to worm larvae, but over the past few years, it caused concern to Bernie’s customers at the Market:
Main Street Farms is at the other end of the local and organic spectrum. Based in Cortland and Homer, they follow most of the rules mandated by the USDA for certified organic produce. They don’t spray their vegetables with any chemicals, preferring to increase time spent weeding instead of applying any herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. 

carrots, beets, and other produce is stacked up on a table at a farmers market
Credit Bob Cat / Main Street Farms
Main Street Farms
The produce is piled high at Main Street Farms' table at the Regional Market

Still, they’re classified as non-certified organic, because they grow food outside of the USDA’s traditional definitions: they raise Tilapia, and the water from the tank is used to fertilize lettuce as it grows. The lettuce cleans the water, and it’s returned to the fish is a continuous loop. Bob Cat, the farm manager at Main Street, says they’ve done a lot of education about the system, but they recognize that their product may only be attractive to some shoppers: 


Bob Cat is the farm manager at Main Street Farms. He says his customer base usually has more rules when it comes to the food they'll buy, and he's optimistic that the farm will attract more shoppers as the organic and local movements pick up steam.

That effort to place more value in healthier, more wholesome food extends to many other products at the market, from maple syrup to honey, cheeses and breads, all the way to the grass-fed beef sold by Will and Allison Schonfeld from Will-Sho Farm. The beef at their stand comes from cows that are grazed on new-growth grass; they're rotated to new pastures with more fresh greens every few days. 

Will says this method (called intensive rotational grazing) keeps the animals in top condition and also impacts the taste of the beef. He summarized a common sentiment from most of the proud farmers at the market,

"The big thing you’ll find with buying local is the food will have more flavor, quite honestly. Commercially-produced and processed foods have become so standardized... to accomplish that, I really believe they’ve lost a lot of flavor in the process. That's with every food, not just meats. I think you'll really see a big difference in everything you buy if it’s local and relatively freshly packaged and delivered to you, it's usually a much fresher product and has been handled differently all through the supply chain to make it much better, more flavorful product." 

The Regional Farmer's Market stays open year-round, but the selection of fresh produce dwindles as the winter months get colder - usually around early November. 

Hannah vividly remembers pulling up in the driveway with her mom as a child and sitting in the car as it idled with the radio on, listening to Ira Glass finish his thought on This American Life. When he reached a transition, it was a wild race out of the car and into the house to flip on the story again and keep listening. Hannah’s love of radio reporting has stuck with her ever since.