WESTPORT - Agriculture and tourism account for a large part of economic activity in Essex County, and one organization has been working to integrate the two.
Adirondack Harvest, an initiative begun by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County, has been promoting products made at local farms and making it easier for people to access those products.
"Our main purpose is to facilitate the connection between the farmers/processors and the consumers, that being the restaurants, the stores, and the general public of the North Country," explained Adirondack Harvest coordinator Laurie Davis.
The main tool used in that endeavor is the organization's Web site, www.adirondackharvest.com. There, anyone can find extensive information on the 400-plus members, about half of which are producers. An interactive map allows people to find farms, farmers markets, and even restaurants that utilize local produce.
"I think it's a great organization;" said Tom Tucker of Tucker Farms, a fifth-generation vegetable and potato farm in Saranac Lake; "just the way they pull everybody together and coordinate what is grown where."
Though Tucker Farms does most of its business through large distributors instead of local retail sales, Tucker said participation in Adirondack Harvest has given he and his family a lot more opportunities when it comes to selling what they grow.
Another way Adirondack Harvest promotes local farm products is through the many farm tours it offers throughout the year. The events allow both visitors and local residents to get an intimate look at farm production.
"Getting them onto the farms really helps them remember where the food comes from," said Davis, "and a lot of people are interested in it."
At Tucker Farms, that fit in perfectly with their long tradition of agri-tourism. With their farm stand and corn maze, the farm has opened itself to tours for several years.
Naturally, consumers' reasons for buying local are several, not the least of which is a concern for food safety.
"Knowing where your food comes from gives you a sense of security," said Davis. In addition, she said, buying local supports the well-being of local farmers, something people are making a conscious effort to do in recent years.
"What I truly believe is that local food just tastes better," she added. "It's usually fresher. If you go to the farmer's market, it's probably been harvested that morning or the night before."
Some of the most delicious local produce, such a heirloom fruits and vegetables, are too fragile to be shipped and are only available at local markets, Davis explained.
Though farmers markets serve as the most visible connection between farmers and consumers, Adirondack Harvest has also facilitated relationships between growers and area restaurants. Dozens of chefs throughout the Adirondacks have begun relying more on local farms for vegetables, fruits, and even meat products.
That includes Tucker Farms, which supplies fresh vegetables to restaurants such as the Lake Placid Lodge and the Interlakes Inn. Tucker said Adirondack Harvest has helped strengthen those ties and facilitate similar relationships with other restaurants.
"It's a big thing now to have local on your menu; it's a big draw," said Davis, noting the fascination restaurant patrons have with locally-grown ingredients. "It's a big benefit for both the local farmers and the local restaurants."
To hear more of Matt's interview with Laurie Davis, Adirondack Harvest coordinator, visit the media lounge section of our Web site at www.denpubs.com.