The Importance of Buying Local & Its Impact on the Environment and the Community

A look into a small-family-owned farm in Orangeville, PA, that practices regenerative and sustainable farming.

By: Sage Sears

From left to right, James Laplante, Deb Race, Emily "Todd" Hopkins, John Hopkins (and Ruby in the middle)

Forks Farm is a small family-owned farm founded in 1986 by Todd and John Hopkins, a young married couple looking to move to the country and foster a good environment to raise their future children. They began their farming journey with only six Hereford heifers, which later evolved into raising chickens, pigs, turkeys, lamb, and much more.

In April 2022, my parents, Deb Race and Jim Laplante, decided to ditch corporate life and buy Forks Farm. They stumbled upon the listing earlier that year and scheduled an appointment to tour the property as soon as possible. When they first arrived, they fell in love with the farm. My mom called me and said they were making an offer as soon as they got home. She said it felt like this was their next step. This was a huge surprise to everyone in my family because they aren't spontaneous people. Especially in an uproot your entire life within two months and buy a farm type of way.

The Implementation of Regenerative Grazing and Chemical-Free Farming Practices

In my interview, where I spoke with John Hopkins, I started by asking him why Forks Farm was founded on these practices. He explained, as he laughed, that their knowledge and relationship with the techniques "grew organically over time, no pun intended."

We started looking at agriculture in a different light and at the same time started learning about practices that farmers can use to avoid the pitfalls that we have in modern agriculture. And as we studied agriculture more in depth, and looked into different practices. It dawned on us that a lot of the practices are environmentally degrading with excessive manure, non-protection of water resources.

Forks Farm Instagram — January 2022

So what is regenerative grazing, and why is it good for the environment?

It is a practice used by many farmers, such as John and Todd Hopkins. They are concerned about the current state of the environment and the carbon emissions caused by the agricultural industries in the United States. There are several tenants to maintaining effective regenerative grazing practices. The critical elements of this practice are keeping the animals outside in large pastures where they can roam around and graze 365 days of the year. But it's not that simple. The animals are moved around every seven days to ensure that the forage growth is within the second stage of maturity, where the plant is at peak nutrition for animals, and the plant is still using most of its energy on growing its leaves and roots, not new seeds. Generally, it takes the ground cover to get back to that stage within 30–45 days, depending on the season.

The cows, chickens, and pigs at Forks Farm play a vital role in maintaining the soil health on the 86-acre property.

We’ve got a whole universe of living things in the soil that are actively working with the elements of the soil and the roots of the plant. that carbon sugar, they actually call it, the organisms are being fed by that. Those plants are catching the carbon in the air, and then keeping it in the soil forever and instead of going into the atmosphere.

The pigs are good tillers. They help break up the soil, which creates little pockets for water to collect in and allows roots to develop quickly and stretch further down into the ground. The chickens are good fertilizers. Their manure is rich in organic matter, which feeds the soil microbes allowing plants to access their nutrients quickly. And finally, the cows help stimulate growth through their foraging. Overall, regenerative grazing is beneficial because it causes soil to thrive, which allows it to store more "soil carbon," which mitigates climate change!

Why does conventional farming negatively impact the environment?

The poor management of agricultural soils accounts for half of the 658 million metric tons of CO2e in the United States. The over-tilling, and lack of regard for the health of the microorganisms in the soil, have led to the mass erosion of a majority of the conventional farmland in the US. If conventional farming operations correctly managed around 25% of the grasslands and soils they use for growing, it would mitigate the entire annual agricultural footprint.

If soil is healthy it holds water, you don’t have erosion, or insecticides or herbicides in your soil, water, or in your food.

Another jarring statistic is that the average American has a carbon "foodprint" of over 12,000 pounds of CO2e per year, which is 21% of the typical American carbon footprint of 28.6 tons. This number accounts for the growing, processing, and distribution of food. Plus the emissions of driving it home, cooking it, and then the emissions from throwing out food waste. Within this number, there are a few ways that you can reduce your "foodprint."

Try to support a farmer who knows how to manage healthy soil properly. Find a local market to shop for your seasonal produce and meat products. Try to close the gap between your food distributor and your home.

With the high gas prices, shopping within a ten-mile radius is good for the environment and your wallet. It would be even better if you could walk to buy your groceries! Even if you take one of these steps, that can help reduce your CO2e emissions yearly.

The life cycle of a chicken at Forks Farm!

Why is it important to shop local?

People often look at the price of locally grown produce and immediately go for the cheaper, conventionally grown produce. While it is understandable, locally grown organic food is a bit more expensive. Most of the time, people do not think about how buying a conventionally grown tomato from California impacts their community and the environment. John said this during our interview, and it stood out to me:

We’re trading dollars. So that dollar stays in the community, and it keeps wealth in the community. Whereas if we buy something grown in South America, or grown in California. The cost of getting it here is much higher, the environmental impact with the use of diesel and trucks is much higher. That dollar goes out of the community. It goes to California to pay that farmer instead of one in our community.

So why not try to support your neighborhood farmer every once and a while? This helps stimulate the local economy by "trading dollars." The small businesses in Orangeville, and the surrounding area, have a strong support network for each other. They are always finding ways to work together and use each other's products. For example, Bread Service PA uses Forks Farm eggs to make their bread, and they use them to make delicious breakfast sandwiches at their cafe! Plus, there is the added benefit of knowing what goes in your food, who grows it, and where it comes from.

Often, this food is a lot better for you nutritionally than the conventional farms as they do not have any pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics pumped into them. At Forks Farm, the products they grow have been proven to be nutritionally superior to their larger counterparts.

Source: https://www.forksfarmmarket.com/food-facts

Let's Meet Some of the Vendors

Mike Hriko (left) and Julie Hriko (right) at their fruit stand before they sold out all of their peaches!

Green's Fruit Farm

Julie and Mike Hriko, Fruit Farmers, from Elysburg, PA

What's it like as a small business trying to compete with bigger businesses with lower prices?

If people like at Forks Market, have an appreciation for what it is, we can be competitive with the supermarket. A lot of the time people are just interested in price, but the quality of the fruit suffers. Here we can offer a truly tree-ripened fruit that we control what goes on it and in it very very carefully.

Why is it important to shop local?

One of the reasons why we're in this is if small farms dry up and die because of not being profitable. We rely more on the larger factory farms, which is frightening. Once farmland goes it never comes back.

Why are you here today?

In a way, to educate consumers about farmers like ourselves. We truly put 100% into growing our produce. We know what we grow. We've been doing this for many years, and we want to be able to sell our quality fruit to people.

How long have you been coming to the market?

We've been coming here for about three years now!

Justin Hummell (left) and Kim Kus (right) at their stand selling pierogi.

Pierogi by Kim

Kim Kus and Justin Hummell, Owners of Brewskis Coffee and Bar and Pierogi by Kim, Bloomsburg, PA

Why is participating in markets like this important to you and your business?

We were trying to figure out a more economical way of feeding people during the pandemic, and everyone wants comfort food. So I'm first generation American, and at first, I was making pierogi just for us, then it turned into making it for friends and family. To saying we should hit the farmer's markets when our restaurant was closed. Forks was where we reached out and started selling them.

How long have you been coming to the market?

Making the pierogi was one of those things where we couldn't start making them, sell out, and then taking them away. So we're still making them, and selling them here, three years later!

Tony Sciandra, after selling out of his second batch of iced coffee.

Caffe Fresco

Tony Sciandra, Coffee Roaster, Port Griffith, PA

What's it like as a small business trying to compete with bigger businesses with lower prices?

I don't compete with them. I march to the beat of my own drum and stick to my convictions.

Why is participating in markets like this important to you and your business?

It is an outlet for me to do business to customers directly instead of online sales. I've been doing it for so long, I've developed a relationship with a lot of my clients. I call them clients, not customers.

How long have you been coming to the market?

A while now, since 2004.

From left to right: Jim and Deb in front of the "Egg Mobile." Jim with his new helping hand. Cynthia, Natasha, and Mel selling FF meats at the market!

If you're concerned about the looming threats of climate change, there are things that you can do to help reduce carbon emissions! They do not have to be scary and overwhelming. It can be as simple as driving or walking a few miles to your local farmer's market. Most of the vendors you'll meet are passionate about what they do and care about the environment immensely. In the end, it is better to support someone in your community because you can honestly know what goes into your food and how you are positively contributing to mitigating climate change.

The people who shop local are supporting practices that they want to see in their neighborhood.

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