Farmer Hot Takes: Getting Local with Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative

 
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Last week I stopped by the Co-op to pick up some greens to make a salad. I had my heart set on some arugula, but something else caught my eye. A box of Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative frisée lettuce. Now, I know what you’re thinking - what is frisée and what else am I putting in this salad? Frisée is a variation of endive, and it’s a really crisp and crunchy green. I ended up making a Frisee Salad with pears, blue cheese, some tofu and a little vinaigrette. Really delicious.

As I looked at the container of greens I started to wonder, where is Lancaster Farms and what does it mean to be a farming cooperative? Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative is a collective of over 100 family farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lancaster itself is about 3 hours southwest of New York City, and quite famous for its Amish and Mennonite roots. Despite some decline in farming activity over the past few decades, Lancaster is still an agricultural hub with 5,462 farms in the county alone.

What’s unique about Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative is that, similar to Greene Hill Food Co-op, the participating farms have made a commitment to sustainability and food access. There are a set of guidelines for how to care for the land, ensuring products are Certified Organic and chemical free, and adherent to  strict animal husbandry practices. The Cooperative also organizes a Community Supported Agriculture Program, or a CSA, with pick up locations throughout the Northeast.

Although Greene-Hill Food Co-op does not participate in Lancaster’s CSA, the premise is that you buy a share from a farmer, who then supplies you a box of farm fresh produce and other goods every two weeks or month depending on the model. This framework helps small farmers plan ahead and ensures they have enough funds to keep their operations afloat.

Buying from local CSAs can also have a big impact environmentally. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 13% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions result from the production and transport of food, including fertilizers used to grow the majority of crops in the US, which require large fossil fuel inputs such as natural gas. On average, food travels over 1500 miles before it gets to your plate.

You can reduce the carbon footprint of your food by 4 - 7% by eating locally. And supporting a CSA or buying from the Co-op is a great way to ensure the food you eat is traveling a relatively short distance compared to many of the larger markets that get their food from a variety of international sources.

Local food also keeps funds, land production and ownership within a specific community. And the practices used on family and community-based operations like Lancaster’s Cooperative are typically much more sustainable, and a lot safer in terms of food security because the products travel a shorter distance.

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It’s important to note that the emissions from the transportation of food are small compared to those from production of food, which accounts for 83% of greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are the result of chemical fertilizers, land use, wasteful irrigation practices, and the increasing demand for beef worldwide (methane!). So if you’re really looking to reduce your carbon footprint through food consumption, cutting out meat and dairy products are your best bet. But eating from sustainable food cooperatives like Lancaster Farms is an essential ingredient, as well.

Interested in learning more? Check out this article in the journal Food Policy or this Blog Post from Columbia’s Earth Institute.