Something you don’t see everyday is a story about Farmers Markets on Page 1 of the Wall Street Journal. The discussions centers around if we should allow vendors at markets who “resell” products that they purchase from other sources. This is obviously a serious issue, and one that draws a lot of strong feelings from both sides of the story. Tomah’s Farmers Market is featured in the story, and one seller is upset that another is selling products in addition to his own that he purchases at an auction. Obviously, for color, references of physical violence are inserted into the story, but this is a serious issue in which we at Local Dirt are trying to figure out.
How do you deal with resellers? How do you police local food? Do you even try? A group in Milwaukee is talking of validating receipts from seed purchases with products. I think there are some ideals that should be laid out that sound a lot like the lessons you learned as a kid:
1. Be Honest (if you are a reseller clearly mark that you did not grow it, and disclose who you got it from) — while this seems probably counter intuitive to the seller it is important to know where the food your customers eat comes from; why? what if someone gets sick you need to know and they have a right to know where it is from. Clear labeling, and for that matter smart labeling — make your food origin easy to see.
2. Support your local community by purchasing locally not just food but other services as well. Yesterday I left for California for meetings, and awoke to have my wife say, “there is no hot water, and water is gushing out the bottom of the heater.” Turns out we called our local heating and cool specialist who arrived no more than 2 hours on an emergency call for $50.00. I doubt the big box stores could do that — on the flip side the cost of a replacement water heater was $200 more than the big box store, but it was worth supporting our local vendor. If we don’t support our local community we won’t have them to depend on. That being said if you are on a budget I see nothing wrong with working with a box store to get what you need. People need to be mindful of local, but also be aware and respectful that not everyone can afford local. I know there are arguments that saying we should be 100 percent local, etc. — I applaud that, but the reality is that our ecosystem of suppliers all serve a purpose.
3. Big box stores are not the enemy — we need to educate, and vote with our wallets to affect change. A healthy dialog is needed not statements like, “this company is evil…” change is hard who would imagine organic would be so mainstream — consumers are a powerful group, and big companies will listen. The goals of local include among other things: access to heirloom varieties of product, support of local economies, reduction in carbon footprint, a more secure food pipeline, etc. — I think most companies would applaud these actions. How we get there for the masses will take a lot of partners — we should embrace any and all that are trying to affect positive change.
4. Volunteer in your community, and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to help make a difference for those less fortunate. For all of our problems we as Americans live in a wealthy society; the ideals of local food of community and support of all things local also means making time to be part of the lives of those who live around us. It is easy to overlook this, and say we don’t have time — make time. I have found, and do find that this is time well spent. Lend a hand — we’ve all needed this in the past.
5. Infrastructure and distribution strategies are hard, require a lot of trial and error, and generally can be frustrating as heck. We need hard points or nodes to jump start local in more communities — these can be church kitchens that can rented out during the weekends to process jams, vegetables, etc. for local producers. Partnership with flash freezers to get the harvest’s goodness preserved for the long winter, and enjoyed months later. We need to think outside of the box, and encourage everyone to participate. We welcome any and all partnerships that can help improve local food infrastructure.
6. If we all share a little we all win — in retail there are industries that show if you have two or three competitors near each other that all their retail sales increase. Ever notice that stores are often close to each other? This concept needs to come to local food. It is scary, but if we share customers, tips, distributors, etc. we can help make it more affordable for all.
7. Be memorable — we all connect sense memories with emotional experiences make each interaction with your stakeholders memorable — exceed expectations. If a hospital or school gives you a chance be on time, be polite, and be professional. I know farming is hard, but so is feeding lots of people, and when they depend on you to bring in 1000 lbs of carrots be there; if can’t do that figure something out so that they can feed those people.
8. We need smart people — to those who think agriculture isn’t cool or rewarding — remember you eat 3x a day for the rest of your life, and this is a huge market. We need you to help us make more local, healthy, and responsible food available to everyone.
9. Don’t think that what you do doesn’t matter — no matter how small in your mind every bit helps. Do something, and you’ll be surprised how a million little things add up to a big thing. Do something you can make sustainable if that means bringing your own bags to a store then do it.
10. With Mother’s Day approaching tell your mom thanks, and that you love her.
We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but all of you can help. We want to know how you feel about local food, and how we can do better. How do we affect positive change?