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To Make Local Food More Accessible, Time to Revive Mid-Sized Farms

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Most people probably don't think of Carrboro, North Carolina -- a bustling town just outside of Chapel Hill -- as a food lover's paradise. But walk into the town's beloved farmers market on a spring Saturday morning, and you see an impressive bounty on display.

Right now, it's still greens season. Table after table bursts with bright stacks of collards, kale, and all manner of mustards, plus arugula, spinach, and many kinds of lettuce. Ahead of the summer harvest, farmers are offering green garlic -- the immature stalk of the garlic plant that adds an incomparable zip to whatever it touches. It won't be long before radishes and peas come along; and soon after, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and other glories of the hot months. Already, there's plenty of raw-milk cheese, and a host of farms offer delicious pastured pork and poultry -- as well as grass-fed lamb and beef -- along with their veggies. Several farmers cook up samples of their sausage, perfuming the air with savory scents.

While taking in this scene recently, I got to thinking of the minor stir I created in my last column, when I argued that higher prices for industrial food won't necessarily inspire more people to choose sustainably grown, healthier fare. Instead, I claimed, the price squeeze will likely push people deeper than ever into the clutches of large-scale food marketers, companies that know how to economize on ingredients and labor costs while producing stuff people like to eat. Since then, I've pointed in Gristmill to fast-food execs hailing high commodity prices as good for business, and cash-strapped school-cafeteria administrators spurning fresh fruit for pre-fab cookies.