Mostly, this is because of the it’s limits as a reliable and accessible food source. Though they are on the rise (from 1,700 in ’94 to 5,300 in ’09) they are often located in affluent neighborhoods, and are rarely more than once per week. So if a person has no way to get to the location, has to work on Saturdays, or if it starts to rain, he probably wont be doing much of his shopping at the market.
And oftentimes, farmers aren’t too keen on the market either. Though they can get a good price for their produce, most markets require the actual farmer to be at the stand. That’s a good thing – it gives you a chance to get to know your farmer. But it also means that the farmer is doing a lot of packing, unpacking, driving, and counting change, when she could be at the farm – taking care of the soil and growing more good food.
Local food in the aisles
In America we get 76 percent of our food from grocery stores and supercenters. But the vast majority of Americans would find it impossible to get local food here. Strawberries, for example, can be grown with relative ease across most all of the U.S. But even during the height of strawberry season, you’re unlikely to find a local strawberry in your local supermarket.
This doesn’t have to be the case. In Fairbury, Ill, we met Mark, a grocer who gives area farmers a very good deal to consign their wares on his shelves. He’s found that having local food in his store is an important part of his competitiveness. And though it may be easier to place an order for a bunch of apples brought over on a container ship, coordinating with local farmers brings a better product to the shelf, and supports the local economy.
Maybe its worth asking your local grocer to stock more local products as well.
Moving past the grocery store, 3 percent of food comes from co-ops and other specialty stores in the US. But on our trip, Robert and I have rarely passed up on a chance to load up on good food at places like River West Co-op in Milwaukee, WI and Bread Root Co-op in Rapid City, SD, and Sweet Pea Market in Steamboat Springs, CO. We’ve found across the country that places like this make a big effort to stock things like fresh and local produce that regular grocery stores often lack. Whether through a cooperative model, which is owned and operated by the shoppers, or simply a regular business, stores with a bigger stake in the community are more likely to sell what the community produces.
Check out this directory to find a co-op or natural food store in your area.
Bounty in the Desert
Having just done a marathon ride across parts of Western Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, rural food deserts became our norm. (A food desert, for those not up on their food justice lingo, is a place where the local population has little or no access to affordable, healthful, fresh food.) These sorts of places are gaining visibility in places like the South Bronx, where corner stores that sell predominately terrible food dominate the landscape.
But just as in crowded housing projects, America’s wide open spaces often lack nourishing food as well. And for many days on end we were riding from convenience store to convenience store, facing shelves full of Snickers bars, chips and soda. One town we pulled into looked big enough to support a grocery store. Hungry for some fresh fruits or vegetables. we asked the friendly woman at the gas station where we would find the such a place. She smiled, “this is it.” There were only a few mealy Red Delicious apples to be found.
But a few days later we were potlucking with Dakota Rural Action at their brand new “food co-op” pickup site. They’ve modeled their new system after one that’s been very successful in Oklahoma, and we’ve since seen in Idaho as well. After undergoing the initial cost of setting up an online marketplace, they now have a site where local producers who join the co-op can post their wares, and shoppers can choose from local meats, cheeses, herbs, veggies, and bread. The goods are then brought out to centrally located points for customers to pick up. The beauty of the model is in its replication. There are currently two drop sites, but as demand and supply spread across the vast and sparsely populated Dakotas, more pickup and drop sites can easily be coordinated in other locations.
So Many Ways…
One thing that has encouraged us on the trip is the entrepreneurial energy we’ve found. CSAs, Food co-ops, drop sites, and grocery stores are only a few of the emerging ways of getting local food from farms to plates.
- CSA Farms are springing up all over the place. If you’re looking to get started, you can find one at localharvest.org
- Joe Waltzer is building a local food retail and wholesale distribution center in Ohio. One of his main goals is to supply local restaurants with fresh produce from neighboring farms.
- The folks at CNY Bounty are delivering local food to doorsteps in two upstate NY counties. Many of their clients have no other viable way to get good food.
- And Randall Dietel is using pedal power to get fresh food to doorsteps in Minneapolis. We need to get more fresh, local food to more communities and individuals across the country. And we need more fresh ideas like his to make it happen.
Farmers selling at Dave's
Randall Dietel of Velo Veggies
Josh and Rama, CSA Farmers
Evan Dvorsak, milk farmer