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‘Savor the Season’ debuts this week
June 22, 2018

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This week, we begin a new series titled "Savor the Season: Celebrating Agriculture in Essex County." Given the growing food scene between Lake Champlain and the High Peaks, it's appropriate that we share stories and news about our food producers.

Each "Savor the Season" issue will be printed at the beginning of a season. This week, a day after the summer solstice, we bring you the "Summer Eats" edition.

We are taking a journey to today's world of agriculture in Essex County. Much has changed over the past 200 years and continues to change.

Since 2002, there has been an increase in direct market farmers in Essex County. The latest Ag Census figures (2012) show that the total number of direct market farms went up 82 percent - from 38 to 69 - and direct to consumer sales went up 361 percent - from $284,000 to $1,309 million over the previous decade.

We're lucky to have a community organization such as Adirondack Harvest, which was founded in 2001 because people were concerned about the loss of farmland in Essex County. Since then, the organization, which is a project of Cornell Cooperative Extension based in Westport, serves the entire North Country, from the St. Lawrence Valley in the west to the Champlain Valley in the east, and from the Mohawk Valley in the southern Adirondacks to the Canadian border in the north.

Adirondack Harvest founding members realized that farms have to be profitable if they are going to survive. Members also have a strong commitment to sustainable farms and want to make sure farm-fresh food is available.

Thanks in large part to Adirondack Harvest, Cornell Cooperative Extension and other groups, finding local food is easier today than it's been in a long time, especially here in Essex County where locally produced food is making a comeback thanks to new farms and businesses.

In 1880, the number of farms in Essex County peaked at 2,752, according to the Essex County Historical Society. But that was when subsistence farming was the norm - growing food to stay alive. Today, people farm to earn a living, not simply to put food on their tables. Talk to a farmer, and you'll realize that farming is much more than a vocation; it's a passion.

We love the diversity that Essex County offers. Due to its range in topography - with Westport on Lake Champlain at 226 feet above sea level and the village of Lake Placid in the High Peaks region at 1,800 feet above sea level - there is diversity our local food.

We have vegetable and grain farms, dairies, cheese and meat producers, bakeries, orchards and maple syrup producers. We also have a growing number of breweries and distilleries.

"Farm to table" is not just a catchy marketing phrase here in Essex County; it's a way of life for many residents and visitors. The word "locavore" gets thrown around a lot. It means someone who consumes all or mostly locally grown or produced food. But you don't have to go to that extreme to appreciate local food. One taste of a fresh green bean, tomato or cucumber off the vine in the garden, and you're hooked.

As we take our agricultural journey in Essex County, we're finding all kinds of stories to share. "Savor the Season" is designed to explore many aspects of the local food scene: history, business, education, tourism, restaurants, farms, produce, meats, family recipes and more. Every time we talk to someone about their story, we find connections to another local producer.

We feel that agriculture in Essex County will only continue to grow, and we're honored to be able to share these stories with you every season.

Now it's time to eat.

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