Monday, June 13, 2011

Connecting farmers and consumers: Two examples of solutions

Food processing and distribution systems are one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of local food economies. Most of these systems have been optimized for industrial scales and simply don't allow people to access local food in a practical way. Thus, you end up buying asparagus that has been shipped from Chile, even though many local farmers have a glut of it that's fresher and better tasting (and hasn't traveled thousands of miles wasting who knows how much fuel).

    
Access to local food has certainly been a difficulty for me as I have tried to transition to eating a more local diet. I frequently go to at least two different farmer's markets every week to find specific products from specific farmers that I am particularly fond of. I have searched up and down nearby grocery aisles to find products that are from around here (or at least from the east coast), but sometimes those local products haven't been treated very well.


Obviously, there's a lot of leg work involved. So you can imagine my excitement when a friend of mine sent me this link today: Farmer Girls.net. The site is designed to provide the critical link between farmer and consumer, which so often hinders people from accessing local food. Websites like these is one more way that local farmers can connect with the buyer and sell their food. Basically the idea is that the consumer orders food from local farmers through the Internet and then picks it up at a certain time from specific locations in the Northern Virginia area. The website provides brief bios of farms and producers that participate, including information about whether they are certified organic, "beyond organic," conventional, or in transition.


Of course, farmer's markets are the most common option (and the most enjoyable, at least for the consumer), but they can take a lot of time out of a farmer's day, can be expensive, and can be hard for people to get to. Also, although I know of a few winter's markets, most farm markets shut down in colder months, so that's several months out of every year when farmers aren't able to sell their wares. (Photos illustrate the goodies I purchased during a recent trip to the farmer's market.)


Another local distribution system that I have followed on Facebook for about a year now is The Local Food Hub, which is based out of Charlottesville, Virginia. This nonprofit works on bridging the divide between producers and consumers that can make eating local food so difficult. According to their website, they focus on three major issues related to local food: distribution, supply, and access.


To address distribution, they have a warehouse where they bring together produce from more than 50 farms, enabling purchasers for big institutions, including hospitals and schools, to purchase local food without having so much difficulty sourcing it.


Aggregating food like this enables farmers to focus more on producing the food, thus addressing supply. The Local Food Hub also provides a lot of educational programs, such as internships and workshops, enabling farmers to continually improve what they do and to bring up a new generation of farmers within the context of the Virginia food shed.


Finally, they provide access with a phone number that enables institutional purchasers to buy the large quantities of food they need and through partnerships that enable the Food Hub to get food to food banks and to needy neighborhoods. It's a cool organization (and I wish there was something like it a little closer to home).

These are just two options for accessing local food, but I hope to learn of more. I'll keep my ears open.    

5 comments:

  1. CSA services (Community Supported Agriculture)are great too - here is a link to a nation-wide site for finding one in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/
    Arganica is another service similar to Farmer Girls, but they deliver a more diverse selection of products right to your door - even beer! http://www.arganica.com/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Jennifer! I was aware of CSAs and Local Harvest, but I didn't know about Arganica. It looks great! This is such an important issue to me that I want to spread the word about local food delivery (and perhaps try and volunteer or something). Once again, thanks so much for the tip!

    ReplyDelete