Who would have thought a small group of mostly Amish and Old-Order Mennonite farmers would be behind the business recently honored as Whole Foods Market’s Mid-Atlantic Region Supplier of the Year?
Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative (LFFC) — a nonprofit cooperative of more than 100 small-scale, certified-organic farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania — traces its roots to spring 2006 when nine Plain Sect farmers gathered in a barn to discuss concerns over being paid too little for their organic products. Today, the co-op is among 27 suppliers Whole Foods honored in its sixth annual Supplier Awards as “best in class in sourcing, and commitment to the highest quality standards.”
What’s special about LFFC is not just its humble beginnings and this big-league award. Of greater significance is that LFFC stands as a model for how organics can preserve farming as a viable livelihood, and affirms small growers’ role in maintaining the reputation of organics for agricultural and culinary excellence.
Lancaster County lays claim to some of the most fertile soils in the U.S. The county also ranks among leaders in the nation for preserved farmland, with more than 100,000 acres protected. The area retains much of its agricultural landscape, thanks to Plain Sect religious communities who view farming as part of their Christian duties. Suburbanization and the high price of land, however, drive many to sell their properties, find nonfarming income, or relocate to affordable farmland. Others find a profitable niche in organic agriculture.