This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of "Groton's Anonymous Mistress." This 300-year-old house is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.

Part 59

By Carl Flowers

Somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of all the food consumed in Massachusetts is imported. One reason for so much imported food is because it's cheap. To get this cheap food the average distance a food product has to travel by the time it hits the kitchen is 1,500 miles.

More than 70 percent of all the meat consumed in the United States is slaughtered and packaged by four companies.

You can just imagine how unripe our fruits and vegetables are when harvested and how fresh our meat is when its purchased. Rising gasoline prices might level the field by kicking the cheap out of our food supply. The same is pretty much true for dairymen and orchardists. In one or two states, apple growers are subsidized by their state.

Some people believe the recent swell in the number of farmers markets will level the field by enabling more farms to survive. When they first started popping up, farmers markets had a positive impact. Today, they aren't having the same result. Some towns charge farmers for coming to the market.

Maybe the reason for charging a fee is because a majority of the vendors at today's farmers markets aren't farmers. If you live in town A, why would you travel to town B when town A has a farmers market of its own. Farmers markets today are nothing like they were 60-plus years ago.

When I went to the Lowell Farmers Market as a 9- or 10-year-old in the late 1940s and early 1950s, shoppers seemed to buy everything by the box or the basket. The fruit or vegetable didn't seem to matter. Many of the buyers had to be people who did home canning or were people buying for grocery stores and restaurants.

At today's farmers markets, an individual will purchase a half dozen ears of corn from one farmer, a pound of tomatoes from another and maybe a pound of beans from a third. The amount of produce a farmer returns home with determines the community's support of the market. Fruits and vegetables harvested near or at their peak ripeness aren't going to hold over to the next farmers market.

Local and ripe are definite advantages over green and unripened fruits and vegetables shipped 1,500-plus miles that are on our supermarket shelves.

A couple other possibilities that could be helpful to local farming are restaurants and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Even so, these two sources aren't without challenges. Some restaurants are reluctant to purchase produce directly from farmers because of uncertainties such as the farm's survival and the farmer's ability to maintain a steady price.

The most feared penalty would be the refusal of a restaurant's supplier to provide future provisions. Crop failure is a real deterrent because CSA members won't always get what they agreed to buy. This could result in the CSA member doing their shopping somewhere else. A short time ago when we had so much rain in our area, tomatoes were overwhelmed with problems. With the right weather conditions, a bumper crop could be as overwhelming as a deficient crop.

Growing and selling a crop is as difficult as it is to keep the farm. Wildlife we all enjoy seeing in our backyard becomes problematic when foraging in a farmer's field. Once the wildlife finds the crop it likes, the farm becomes the perfect place to dine.

Deer love beans, squash and pumpkins. Turkeys, on the other hand, are connoisseurs of tomatoes and strawberries. A peck here and a peck there is a fairytale notion of the devastation pecking can do.

Nonvegetarians such as coyotes, foxes and fisher cats love chickens and lamb, but these aren't the only visitors looking for farm-fresh meat. Bears, bobcats, raccoons and skunks are other late-night diners, each having their own favorite food. These savvy animals make themselves unnoticeable during hunting season. They wait until farm-fresh food is available during harvest season.

When wildlife is feasting on a farmer's crops and livestock, only the farmer in Massachusetts can solve the problem, but only if he catches the animal in the act. This requirement is ridiculous. After working 10 to 12 hours when it's daylight, how many farmers can stay awake all night waiting to bag the culprit and be back at work the next day for another 10 to 12 hours? Who knows which night the culprit will return for another feast?