Thanksgiving is now behind us, and with it the traditional end-of-harvest celebration.
But these days, far from settling in for a long winter’s respite, farmers are still hard at work.
For the next month or so, many will be starting or extending their season with Christmas tree sales and perhaps some other value-added holiday-related income streams — whether it be horse-drawn carriage rides, live Nativity scenes, homemade goodies or visits with Santa.
Beyond the holidays, the burgeoning local food movement will keep many growers busy well into the winter months with winter CSAs and winter markets.
Through their own ingenuity and constant research, farmers have found ways to use cold frames, hoop houses and the like, along with innovative storage techniques, to extend the growing season long past that traditional harvest.
From 2010 to 2011, the number of winter farmers markets increased by 38 percent, according to the USDA. New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia are among the top 10 states for winter markets.
These days, consumers are finding it easier to purchase local fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, jams and jellies, cheeses, wine, baked goods and more all winter long.
Out of necessity and opportunity, farming for many has become more than a spring planting to fall harvest operation. It has become a 12-month job.
Whether it’s a dairy producer starting a creamery or farmstead cheese operation, or a vegetable grower who makes homemade salsa from his tomatoes, farmers are finding ways to add value to farm products and money to their pockets and the local economy.
Sometimes, making that happen requires a little bit of help. And that’s just one important role the Farm Bill plays.
Value-Added Producer Grants funded through the Farm Bill provide agricultural producers with access to capital, technical assistance and new markets for their products and services — all of which help farmers expand their operations, hire more employees and meet local consumer demand.
But funding for that program, like so many others, is in danger as an expired Farm Bill sits at the feet of the current lame duck Congress.
As farmers continue to work tirelessly to find new ways to keep afloat amid a constant onslaught of unpredictable challenges — whether it be drought, feed shortages or fluctuating milk prices — Congress seems unable to accomplish anything.
This most unproductive body of lawmakers has left not only the Farm Bill languishing, but also a budget and many other important pieces of legislation concerning everything from cybersecurity to the ailing postal system.
Unlike farmers, they have little fruit to show for their labor.
Let’s hope that as the year draws to a close they can reap at least a meager harvest from their lame duck session and sow the seeds for a more fruitful year to come.
And maybe in a few weeks, when lawmakers head home for another holiday recess, they can stop at their local farm for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, some homemade jam and a little inspiration.