THE BLOG
09/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Going Local Going Too Far?

Like all trends, going local sometimes goes too far. If you need evidence of this, read the story in the Times last week about the Brooklyn couple who tried to grow their own lettuce -- only to find that it had rotted before they finally picked it.

Why go to all this trouble when there are plenty of real farmers happy to grow your food -- and farm markets and CSAs for purchasing it?

Without doubt, we still need farmers, the kind that make a business out of producing and selling crops, to feed us. After all, in New York, there are eight million souls who require breakfast, lunch and dinner. We can't all have rooftop gardens.

So that's where farmers like Steve Winkler, age 42, come in. He's in business to satisfy your yen for local. But he's actually a real farmer who knows what he's doing. On a Sunday in early August, Sang Lee Farms in Peconic on the North Fork of Long Island, which procures its meat from Winkler, brought him to a dinner under the leafy trees by its produce stand to meet Sang Lee's CSA customers.

Winkler, who farms in way upstate New York, just 30 miles from the Canadian border on 320 acres of land abutting Lake Ontario, is not all that keen on the PR tasks that now seem to be part of many farmers' job descriptions. But it seems that mingling with the gentry who buy his beef, chicken and pork is just part of a day's work.

Glancing at the well-dressed crowd and the parking lot stuffed with BMWs and Mercedes, Winkler says: "This isn't the most fun thing to do."

"I'd rather be home with the family farming," adds the big beefy farmer who was outfitted in cutoffs and work boots.

Though he was born in Floral Park, Long Island, his grandparents farmed, so Winkler can claim a direct connection to the land. Growing crops -- or in his case raising around 1,000 hogs and 800 free-range chickens -- is in his blood.

And the market for his naturally grown meat is picking up speed.

"I'm moving 30 pigs and three-to-four cattle a week" he says.

Sang Lee contracts with Winkler to import beef, pork, chicken and other meat from the far northern reaches of New York to its produce stand on the North Fork. Known for its organically grown fruits and vegetables, Sang Lee saw a hole in the market and jumped in to fill it. More than 100 people signed up to buy the meat the first week it was advertised, says farmer Karen Lee.

So what does Winkler think about the new found glamour that now adheres to ordinary farmers, transforming them into rock stars for the locavore crowd?

He shrugs and says: "There are some of these celebrity farmers who have two cows and three pigs and they're buying from their neighbors."

But there's also a decided upside to today's fascination with the folks who grow our food.

"The market was always there" for high quality foods, says Winkler. "Now, the supply is coming."