local food sourcing
Increasingly, food service directors and purchasing officers in schools, hospitals, and other institutions are being tasked with the mission of finding local producers of the food items they buy on a regular basis. They are doing this to support regional food systems, local economies, and the health of their constituents.
California’s San Luis Obispo County has a plethora of microclimates that enable farmers to produce a great variety of crops. Promoting a local food culture that takes advantage of that diversity and abundance is the mission of Central Coast Grown, a San Luis Obispo-based non-profit organization that strives to build awareness, production and consumption of locally grown food by conserving farmland and supporting young farmers and urban farming.
According to the organization’s executive director Jenna Smith, Central Coast Grown works to conserve land currently in agricultural production, as well as to educate the public about food and its origins.
“We want the sustainable agriculture movement to grow in San Luis Obispo County,” Smith says. “Agriculture is the top industry in the county. We want to promote local food literacy among the community.”
Across the country, small-scale local and sustainable food enterprises are emerging: urban farms, food hubs, community gardens, and more. All of these operations, however small, help create a new, more localized agricultural paradigm. But in order to overhaul our entire food system, President and Co-founder of The Food Commons Larry Yee says we need to think much bigger.
“Our overall objective is to demonstrate a whole new food system for local and regional food,” said Yee. “I don’t know of anyone else who is actually trying to create a whole system with all the necessary infrastructure for a highly effective, efficient local food system. There are people who are working on pieces of it, but we were crazy enough to try to tackle the whole thing.”
At Urban Rural Nexus, Food Distributor in Colorado Makes Connections that Grow the Local Food MarketplaceSeptember 24, 2013 | Melonie Magruder
Back when she was running the Lyric Cinema Café, she made a conscious choice to make sure her café was stocked with the same kinds of foods she would pack for her children’s lunches – something fresh, healthful and, most importantly, local.
“We were sort of a glorified concession stand,” Mozer said. “But we believe in supporting our local farmers. And where we’re located, somewhere between urban and rural, you can find a lot of farms.”
The recently established DROPP, Distributors of Regional & Organic Produce and Products, is a side project for the Great Basin Community Food Cooperative in Reno, Nevada. The food cooperative came into existence in 2005 under a buyer’s club model. Although the food coop is still going strong, DROPP is an effort to improve the infrastructure between the informed consumer and the sustainable grower and is best described as a food hub where farmer and fork collide.
“As we were building new relationships with local farmers we started sending out local availability lists to restaurants and members of our coop just saying ‘this farm has this and this farm has that.’
A lot of farmers will tell you that the food grown through sustainable agriculture is only part of the equation. Creating infrastructure for small growers through food hubs, incorporating marketing and educational materials for customers and overhauling the perception of organic food in the United States are all essential parts of a successful food evolution. Indeed, there’s more to food hubs than just food. Just ask Kristen Suokko of Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, VA.
“We see Local Food Hubs nationally having impacts on a range of interrelated issues: food security, food safety (knowing where the food comes from), local economic vitality, land stewardship, and public health,” shares Suokko.
With roots in San Francisco’s storied People’s Food System, Veritable Vegetable has helped organic growers distribute their produce for nearly 40 years. While farmer’s markets and food co-ops are recent phenomena in some parts of the country, northern Californians started seeking an alternative to supermarkets and agricultural food giants in the 1970s. The People’s Food System was a network of collectives in the San Francisco Bay Area that sought to connect local food producers to neighborhood co-ops and community markets. In 1974, some members established the Veritable Vegetable Collective, which focused solely on produce distribution. Over the years, Veritable Vegetable has evolved from a worker-run collective into a for-profit company that serves growers and markets in parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Hawaii.
Anyone who has visited a Chipotle Mexican Grill knows their business model: pretty, tasty tacos and burritos prepared to order in an assembly line of tortillas, savory shredded meats, beans and an array of salsas to fit your heat tolerance.
What you might not know is that Chipotle is leading the way for “fast food” chains to transform their food sourcing to a more environmentally responsible model that taps local farmers, patronizes humanely-raised meat farms and gives customers a more healthful mouthful. Or, as Chipotle puts it, “Food With Integrity”.