We Were Local When Local Wasn’t Cool

We Were Local When Local Wasn’t Cool
Local markets will always be part of agriculture.

Much talk about “local” has spurred a multitude of conversations, especially during the pandemic of 2020. But, did you know, 100 years ago nearly every farmer and rancher in Arizona, and America, grew for the local market. The local ag product market has had ebbs and flows, but for long-time farm and ranch families we’ve always embraced the local market.

Just so history isn’t lost on us, if you had a time capsule and could go back in history to visit with the Smallhouse, Rovey, Dobson, Murphree or Sossaman farm families (or any other farm and ranch family in Arizona before statehood), they’d walk you around the farm explaining what crop was going to what market, always having a  mix of product for local and regional markets.

They would take you to their garden too or their livestock pens and explain that they were growing and raising for their own family and the neighbors across the way. They might even tell you they had a growing market for their backyard egg farm (think Hickman’s when they first started out in Arizona).

And while local agriculture markets have had ebbs and flows, a resurgence of a broader local Arizona ag market took place in the early 1990s during a time when community supported agriculture (CSAs) in Arizona was really taking off. In conversations with farmer and Arizona Farm Bureau member Frank Martin of Crooked Sky Farms, you’ll hear him describe those early days and how exciting it was to be part of a local movement of locally grown food.

Fast forward to today and the 2020 pandemic and bottlenecks in the food supply chain and you have another re-awakening of the local food movement, especially in the meat markets, certainly beef.

For us in agriculture, it never went away. My dad, the cotton farmer (plus other crops), may have grown for a vast global market but he had roots in local markets with his own family when he was growing up on the farm; it included selling local beef (anyone remember Thomas meat locker in Chandler, I believe Arizona Avenue) and later mom’s garden that over produced to feed an entire small town community, along with other farm families in the area.

So, I’ve changed the title to the Song, “We Were Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” … farmers and ranchers have always been local, even when it wasn’t cool.

And that’s why Arizona Farm Bureau has hosted Fill Your Plate for the last 13 years. Launched in 2007, Fill Your Plate is a searchable database designed to connect Arizona families with the local farm and ranch market. Our four separate databases are constantly being updated to provide users with up-to-date information on our local ag markets.

When you source on Fill Your Plate, you get a full gamut of information.

  1. It’s the most comprehensive list of direct-market, retail farmers and ranchers in the state … I’ll take bets on that one.
  2. Currently, it’s one of the only Arizona-centric “searchable” lists that’s also mobile friendly. I also give props to Local First Arizona’s Local Food Finder which hosts something along this line; but theirs is not exclusively ag-focused. They list value-added products and businesses too (a good thing and something unique to them).
  3. In our “beef” search alone, there are more than 50 producers as we’re always on the search for more. Two months ago we only had 30 beef producers. Because of the surge in demand during the COVID19 pandemic for local beef, the count has come close to doubling.
  4. Fill Your Plate is evergreen and we’re constantly adding new retail farmers to the searchable database.

Ask any farmer or rancher today, whether they’re generational (celebrating 50 to 100 years in business, for example) or a beginner farmer or rancher, we’ll always grow and raise to the market’s needs. Today, you want local beef and wine? We’ve got it for you!

 

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