The Role Community Businesses Can Play In Supporting Our Farms

Fair Farms Blog By Jane Bloodworth Rowe

An excellent way to create a sustainable community with a locally-based food market is through partnerships between area growers and retailers who can help sell their products.

Here in Maryland, one such partnership has developed between the Rooster + Hen Store, an organic general store with locations in Catonsville and Ellicott City, and Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative, or TOG, a cooperative of over 40 small farms.

“We are a small, family owned store that sells locally grown and produced food,” said Rooster + Hen Co-Owner Allison Smith. The store offers a wide variety of products that range from honey to baked goods to produce, much of which is produced within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Juggling this business with the demands of caring for three children creates a hectic schedule for Smith and her husband, Joe McRedmond, but they are committed to providing healthy, environmentally-friendly foods to area customers.

Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative began in 1988 when three neighboring Pennsylvania farmers decided to create a new model for marketing locally grown farm products. Under the leadership of manager Chris Fullerton and President Jim Crawford of New Morning Farm in Hustontown, Pennsylvania, the farmers initially marketed primarily to consumers in Washington, D.C.

The idea behind the cooperation was that small farmers could market more efficiently by working together. The farmers, who live mostly in south central Pennsylvania, focus on growing their own specialties, or the crop that each produces best. Some are longtime farmers who have been growing organic produce since the 1970s and some are new, first-generation farmers.

“They have a huge variety of produce,” said Smith, who orders much of the produce for her store from TOG. She added that The Rooster + Hen primarily focuses on “the basics” in season, such as leafy green vegetables in the fall. They will, however, order specialty items if customers request them.

Rooster + Hen Store and TOG are part of what appears to be a growing trend of farmers and retailers working together. Another example is Wholesome Harvest Co-op, which opened in September in Frostburg, Maryland.

Wholesome Harvest Co-Op is a member-owned cooperative that works closely with local farmers to provide local, organic, and bulk foods.

The United States Department of Agriculture notes the desire, on the part of many consumers, to know how their food is sourced. The problem is that conventional marketing methods make this nearly impossible, and they also make it difficult for small farmers to effectively market. Non-conventional methods, such as markets that allow farmers within a region to work together to market, plays an important role in satisfying the consumers’ demands, according to the USDA.

“Our goal is to be a bridge from local farms to the people in the community. Like a year-round farmers market,”  Smith said.