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Jennifer Perry thinks globally and acts locally

Friends and Neighbors: Everyone has a story

June 23, 2008
By CAPERTON TISSOT, Special to the Enterprise
Jennifer Perry had long wondered what she could do about the declining state of the environment. Rather than just complain, she sought some kind of positive action. She found a way to fulfill this desire last winter by establishing a local food distribution network.

Her organization goes by the name “Farm to Family Food Network” and operates in a manner similar to other rapidly developing local food delivery programs around the country.

For a small fee, she acts as a go-between, bringing small local farmers (from within a 50-mile range) together with customers looking for fresh, healthy and tasty food.

By buying from these farms, her network reduces transportation costs, delivers quality produce and helps ensure sustainable agricultural practices. Small farms, which generally operate at a loss, gain a reliable income base, while customers acquire local sources for organically grown produce, as well as free-range, humanely slaughtered, antibiotic- and hormone-free meat, at affordable prices.

Lorraine Wilson, whose recent tragic death was a heartfelt loss to the community, was another enthused organic gardener who provided vegetables for area residents. Before dying, she had told her husband how glad she was that Jennifer would now bring a similar service to the Tri-Lakes area.

Jennifer was born and raised in Malone. In 1989, Skidmore College awarded this unusually talented music student (besides clarinet, she plays the flute, guitar and saxophone) a full music scholarship. Until this time, along with her music, make-up, clothes and a red sports car had been her main interests.

At Skidmore, she got a wake-up call. There she first began to understand the seriousness of the environmental crisis facing the planet. The message that resonated with her was, “It is your responsibility to fix the world.”

The message hit her like a bolt of lightening. She took up hiking, camping and exploring the outdoors, learning as much as she could about the natural world. Angry at first about the deplorable state of the planet, she later decided that education, not legislation, was a better way to change people’s attitudes. Therefore, she devoted her summers to working for Longacre Expeditions of Pennsylvania, teaching outdoor skills while leading trips in Maine, Nova Scotia and Colorado.

Her education continued when, after graduating in 1993 with a self-determined degree in environmental science, she moved to the Boundary Waters area in Minnesota for a three-year stint; a “nice chunk of wilderness,” Jennifer said.

She first worked as an intern, learning how to teach outdoor education before becoming an instructor; however, the pay was poor and it was hard to earn a living wage.

While in Minnesota, she developed a keen interest in dog sledding, a popular sport in that area. Strongly attracted to northern latitudes, she traveled to Churchill, Manitoba to help establish an environmental education program with the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. There she met a couple, Michelle and John Stetson, who also came from Minnesota and were leading expedition-style dog sled trips throughout Manitoba and Minnesota. They hired her to return with them and work as their dog handler and assistant guide.

One connection led to another so that she eventually made another move to Tadoule, Manitoba, an air-access-only Dene community. When efforts to start her own dog sled business fell through, she decided to return to the U.S. Her mother drove north to meet her and helped her move back home.

On reaching Winnipeg, she remembers standing by the split in the road and asking herself, “Do I go left and head to the Adirondacks, or right to Montana to live with cousins?”

The fact that a couple living in McColloms, New York, were in need of a sled dog handler, and perhaps, just a little pressure from her mother, finally determined her to head east.

For as long as she can remember, she has had a powerful interest in gardening. Once settled down in the Adirondacks, she began to cultivate her own plot of land. Each year, the size of the garden doubled to its present size of about a half-acre.

The most striking feature of this hand-tilled space is the lack of encircling deer fencing, maybe the only garden in the northern region not to be surrounded by barriers. Asked how that is possible, she replied “75 sled dogs next door do the trick!”

The evolution from concern for the state of the planet to a passionate interest in local food “just happened,” Jennifer said, though she does linger over these words for a moment and wonder if it wasn’t all predestined.

It all began with selling her extra vegetables and plants in a stand in front of the house. Then, last summer, she and Ellen Beberman (who Jennifer says has a lot of creative energy) collaborated to set up a farmers’ market at Paul Smith’s College. In the beginning of the season, they had three farmers; by the end they were up to 12. It proved to be a successful venture.

This project convinced Jennifer that there was a year-round demand for good farm produce. In January 2008, she began her Farm to Family Network. It was enthusiastically endorsed by both farmers and area residents.

Running such a project requires not only good administrative skills, but an understanding of the agricultural world. Well organized and a careful planner, she kept her business small, starting with 50 people at first.

The network provides meat, eggs, honey, maple syrup, herbal products, produce and more during the winter months when farmers’ markets are closed.

Orders, which she delivers once a month to a location in Saranac Lake, are submitted over the Internet. By next year, she hopes to expand to 100 monthly customers, broken into four different groups, each with their own pick-up dates. She is very much in need of a professional Web site from which to run the business and hopes a volunteer will step forward to help her set one up.

Meanwhile, as other farmers return to summer farmers’ markets, Jennifer, tied closely to home by the demands of raising a family, is unable to participate. Consequently, she has set up a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which customers pay her a flat fee in exchange for a weekly delivery of seasonally ready produce from her own garden.

Jennifer’s network serves the community in a number of ways. Not only does it make excellent produce available but it brings people closer together by creating human connections: customers to customers, farmers to farmers and farmers to customers. In fact, she has plans to take customers on tours of the farms that produce the food they eat.

She is quite happy that community response to her projects has been so positive.

“Problems with the state of the planet can be overwhelming, but if we each focus on just one issue, it will make a difference and bring us a bit closer to restoring a healthy environment on this earth,” she said.

For comments or questions, Caperton Tissot can be reached at tissot@SnowyOwlPress.com.

Article Photos

Jennifer Perry
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)

 
 

 

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