Maturing Market

At NPR, Luke Runyon explains how farmers market sales are slowing—and why that might be a good thing:

“Farmers markets may be a good marketing tool for a small farm, but they can be onerous to prepare for, with slim profit margins, says Sarah Low, a USDA economist and lead author on the report.

“Because of that Low says farms are increasingly using middlemen to sell to restaurants, grocery stores and distributors. With an increasing share of their produce, dairy or meat going to those channels, some farmers may choose to forgo the farmers market.

“‘It’s just not as cost-effective for producers to be face-to-face with consumers,’ Low says. ‘A lot of farmers like to spend their time farming, not necessarily marketing food.'”

Crunching the Numbers

The Calhoun School, a private school in Manhattan, offers its students “a menu of nutritious whole foods, locally sourced and freshly prepared each day” at a purported food cost of just $3.12 per student. Dana Woldow points out that food is just one expense of a school lunch program:

“The hard reality is that public schools don’t have the whole $3 to spend on food because they also have to rely on that money to pay for cafeteria workers and overhead to run the operation. A more fair comparison than what Edutopia provides would include all of the costs of Eat Right Now, including labor and overhead. Add those costs to the $3.12 spent on food, and the full meal cost per student is likely to be closer to $8 than to $3.”

What Is Local Food?

The term is ill-defined in the market, reports Steve Holt:

“If potatoes are grown in Colorado, shipped to Texas for distribution, then shipped back to Denver, should they be marketed as local? Should a store hang a sign lauding its support of local farmers if it only carries one product grown within the state? Is it “local meat” if the animal was born and raised far away but slaughtered closer to market?”

Keeping It Local

Residents of Plains, Kansas, are trying to establish a local grocery store with fresh food:

“‘A grocery store is the heart of the town,’ said Jeanne Roberts, who is leading the effort to open a new shop. ‘In small towns, it’s the social gathering place. And when you don’t have that social gathering place and you’re going outside, then you don’t feel connected.'”

A Model for the Midwest?

A nonprofit developer is building a 24-acre food hub in Louisville “aimed at fertilizing a budding local food system,” reports Chad Bouchard. It’s an approach that could be replicated in other Midwestern states:

“Caroline Heine, co-founder and project director of Seed Capital Kentucky, said the hub will fill key gaps in the local food system, which analysts said could have an economic impact of to up to $800 million.

“‘Right now to get access to local food, we put the burden on farmers. They have to grow the food, they have to be the logistics department and truck the food in to wherever it’s going to be distributed, they have to be marketers, they have to sell the food,’ she said. ‘It’s a lot of risk that the farmers bear.'”

“A Student-Led Model of Food Recovery”

Ben Simon’s solution to hunger in America? Leftovers:

“Simon, 24, is cofounder of Food Recovery Network, a nonprofit organization that collects surplus food from college campuses and distributes it to hungry community members. He started FRN while studying at the University of Maryland in 2011 with seven other college students around the nation. Now, there are 104 colleges that are part of FRN’s network, along with countless volunteers who collect and distribute the food.”

“A Global Celebration of Community Through Food”

Slow Food’s sixth annual Terra Madre Day is coming up on December 10, notes Richard McCarthy:

“The theme of Terra Madre Day 2014 is saving endangered products—in keeping with the theme of this year’s Terra Madre conference, The Ark of Taste. Slow Food is urging participants to focus on endangered local foods at risk of disappearing: ‘All over the world, traditional food products are disappearing, along with the knowledge, techniques, cultures and landscapes related to their production.'”

“The Next Step of Eating Local”

Patricia Leigh Brownnov profiles so-called “crop swaps” happening around the country:

“At the weekly event at Pollinate Farm & Garden, an urban farm supply store here, Haven Bourque, 49, a communications consultant, had brought homegrown basil, Japanese eggplant and late-season tomatoes from her garden, which she exchanged for broccoli, bok choy and yellow cherry tomatoes.

“The crop swap is a sort of farmers market that operates on the barter system. It allows Ms. Bourque to diversify her pantry while socializing with neighbors. ‘It forces you to be creative,’ she said. ‘As a culinarian, I want that flavor,’ she said.”

“Heartland Communities Need to Be Involved”

For a sustainable food economy to fully take root, we shouldn’t eat so locally, argues Liz Carlisle:

“By all means, we should continue developing local food systems—in both urban and rural areas. But we also need to build strategic partnerships between affluent urban consumers and rural producers in environmentally sensitive, low-income areas. We’re used to this fair-trade paradigm for tropical commodities like bananas and coffee. It’s time to apply it to rural America, too.

“Even if you live hundreds of miles away from Montana, eating organic lentils grown there helps farmers responsibly steward their land.”

“A Trendy ‘Yuppie’ Food System”?

Kelly Hodgins wonders whether eating locally is just for elites:

“As a small farmer myself, I believe that farmers deserve more prestige than currently credited with. However, if the way to garner prestige and project an image is by association with high-cost niche items, then this leads us further from an inclusive, equitable, alternative food system (AFS), because as prices rise, fewer people are able to participate.

“For as much as the local food movement has stimulated a very important consumer demand for alternatives to destructive industrialized food production and distribution, it also cultivates an exclusive space, where only those who can afford to ‘vote with their forks’ participate.”