Monday, January 18, 2010

The Keys to a Thriving Local Food System

The Key to Local Food Systems' Survival: Strong Community Support
Let's get back to local communities.

By Sara Novak
Columbia, SC, USA | Fri Jan 8, 2010 03:00 PM ET

John Wilkes/Getty Images

Eco-Friendly Foods | Food Miles | Local Food

I read the most interesting article on Grist the other day and it brought to light some local food issues that are not getting nearly enough attention. While farmers' markets are growing, small farms are becoming trendy, and sustainable agriculture has made its way back into the limelight, producers are just one piece of the local food puzzle. According to an article on Grist, without a vibrant rural community, the emerging local food system cannot survive.

If a farmer has no place close to home to have grains milled, livestock butchered, or items sold, a prosperous local community is difficult. Each tiny rural community used to have their own butcher, mill, grocer, and farm supply shop, but in recent decades as industrial and factory farming have taken over, these small entities were pushed out of business. Larger corporate grocers are less likely to purchase local foods because these stores have minimums which most small farmers cannot reach. The same goes for butchers, millers, and processors. We have to think of the big picture to make local food a real force.

The Keys to a Thriving Local Food System

1. Support Local Businesses

For a thriving rural community to exist, you need businesses holding it up. This means always frequenting your neighborhood grocer over large chain establishments. They are much more likely to purchase from local farmers and producers. And on that note, when you're at the store, don't just look for local produce and dairy, try and find boutique food retailers from your area. Also look for local meats. I buy local tofu, jam, honey, and granola (if I don't make my own that week). Tell your friends about your purchases and be the biggest advocate for your community's local food producers.

2. Encourage Entrepreneurship in Your Community

While small size farming is becoming an increasingly well respected field, it's crucial to spread the entrepreneurial spirit to the businesses that support it. Local community colleges used to have classes on butchering and other professional skills like these, but many have fallen by the waist side. Consider taking the plunge and opening a small business yourself. After all, it is the small businesses that hold this nation up.

3. Engage in Community Supported Initiatives

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has grown in popularity in the past few years and with good reason, it's likely the best deal going for fresh local eats. And Community Supported Restaurants are another step in the right direction. According to Mother Nature Network, the next big thing in the realm of local eating are Community Supported Restaurants. Similar to the way that farms get their funding with CSAs, restaurants receive funding from the community. One of the first restaurants to try the model was Claire's in Hardwick, Vt. The Preservation Trust of Vermont initially contributed $15,000 to the restaurant and then $50,000 was raised by selling $1,000 restaurant coupons to members of the community. This again, encourages entrepreneurship in your small town.

4. Support Local Food Cooperatives

Local food co-ops like Oklahoma Food Cooperative sell food and non-food products that are made in Oklahoma. They do this via an order delivery system based on their Web site and a network of members and volunteers across the state. This makes all of the state's local food available and easy to order. Check and see if your state has such a system and if not, try other local food sites like Local Harvest. Read my guide to finding local food in your community.

5. Become a Ruralpolitan

Rachel wrote that a Wall Street Journal story illustrated the growing trend of "ruralpolitans" moving from urban or even suburban homes and out to the country. Young people are feeling a pull to rural communities and this, in my opinion, is the single most important aspect of a local food structure. Establishing a vibrant rural community is the key. A community that is self sufficient and can survive from within is critical. It's a shift in the current system that may seem overwhelming, but it is so possible and would, in the end, lead to a shifting of the entire food mentality. It's a welcomed change for the planet and the palette.

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