Rising Fuel Prices Prompt Farmers to Get Creative

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Rising energy prices are inspiring local farmers to get more creative. But they do have one big advantage: they're close to the biggest market in the country, which is New York City.

Even those little bottles filled with jam or honey sold at farmer markets are getting more expensive, said Andrew Coté, a beekeeper in New York.

"The cost of shipping is affected," Coté said. "The bottles are made in China. They're shipped all the way to New York. The bottles are made of a petroleum based product, which is more expensive now."

Despite this week's fall in the price of crude oil, prices have risen significantly since late 2008. And nationwide, the average price for regular grade gasoline is $3.96 a gallon, which is nearly double the price from two years ago, according to the U.S. Energy Department. It's even higher in New York.

"I drive tens of thousands of miles per year to get around to my beehives. I have them within a 50-mile radius," Coté said. "With gas at $4.50 a gallon, it's very difficult to maintain prices as they are."

To deal with these rising costs, Coté came up with an idea to make more money. Instead of branding his honey "New York City honey," which is what he used to do, he is cashing in on the hype around local.

"We've got honey from West 68th, 14th and 2nd, the Financial District from on top of the Bridge Cafe, from Long Island City in Queens, from the Lower East Side. So we have hyper-local honey."

Not everyone can bring their produce from just a few blocks away.

"Gas price increases are affecting all of us in so many different ways," said Cheryl Rogowski, who manages a farm in Orange County, New York, about an hour and a half drive from the city. She sells potatoes, bok choy, radishes and many other sorts of produce at the Union Square market.

She said she's consolidating trips, making sure every time her staff uses the truck, they're making multiple deliveries to avoid wasting fuel.

"It's a lot of choreography," she said.

Rogowski is also saving more seed from her own vegetables and buying less seed from farms in other states and overseas: "So we don't have to pay shipping costs," she said.

Beyond the benefit of saving money, she said, "it enhances the food security" in her operation.

And rising energy prices have prompted Rogowski, the first farmer to win a MacArthur genius award, to start an experiment.

She said she's going to track every aspect of the cost of production of six different vegetables - radishes, bok choy, scallion, potatoes, tomatoes and pumpkins - to figure out whether she should raise prices on some of them, or stop growing some of them all together because they're not generating enough revenue to pay for themselves.