What Everybody Ought To Know About Supporting Local Farms
by Elizabeth Weigand Owner, Agricultural Connections
We are in an era of abundant information with options and choices at our fingertips. Nearly everything, including how we shop for food, gives us reign of choice. With so much choice, what is the tipping point that leads to final decisions: convenience, price, selection, aesthetics, relationship, size, health, shelf life, familiarity, or flavor? There is a motive driving our purchasing decisions, and with every dollar we spend, we are voting.
I want my votes to support my neighbors. And, my farmers are my neighbors. I believe that sinking roots into our local soil requires conscious decision making with every meal we eat. If we truly care about “localizing” our economy, then we must directly invest into this economy. This is our opportunity to engage in local capitalism – to build a robust local economy, keep the farmers in business, and support our immediate region.
Let’s explore options for how to get food into your home and discuss which of these directly supports the local food and farm economy. How do you typically get food to your home? Do you…
Purchase fresh goods from a Farmers Market?
Sign up for a seasonal CSA?
Have a garden in the summer and preserve for winter storage?
Buy chicken and beef from a neighbor and store your proteins in a second freezer in your garage?
Have a community garden plot?
Shop at a local farmers co-op?
According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), 83 percent of shoppers would answer “no” to the above questions and typically purchase food from traditional grocery stores. This shocking statistic contradicts the direction most shoppers are wanting to go: fresh, organic, and healthy. A whopping 18 percent of consumers say they are purchasing more fresh, perishable food this year compared to the previous. And the organic sector “is the fastest growing sector of the food industry.” These facts indicate that food from local farms should be the most sought after; local food is inherently fresher, more nutrient dense, preservative-free, and typically grown with organic practices. So what does that mean for a business like mine?
Agricultural Connections (Ag Connect) brings sustainable food to kitchens of all sizes. We have two online stores: one for households that features year-round produce boxes and one for commercial clients, mainly chefs and small groceries. Central Oregon Locavore (Locavore) is open six days a week and is a year-round ‘farmers market’ selling locally-grown and locally-processed foods. As organic and locally-based shopping grows, these shopping trends would suggest that businesses like Ag Connect, Locavore and local vegetable farms would be booming. While Ag Connects’ sales have certainly grown in our business to business division, our orders to households have dropped off. Ag Connections and Locavore compete with bigger stores like Market of Choice, Natural Grocers and Whole Foods — businesses that offer high quality, fresh and shelf-stable foods. These businesses are not working directly with nearly as many local farmers as Ag Connect and Locavore. Instead, they offer the traditional grocery shopper a convenient way to maintain their familiar shopping behaviors.
Shopping in a new way requires a behavior change. A behavior change requires placing value on the outcome of that change so that the added complexity in a busy life is justified. In other words, you have to care about supporting your neighbor-your farmer- in order to justify complicating your life by shopping in a new way. You can go all in: purchase a CSA, buy on-the-hoof, and start to garden. Or you can start by asking questions. Visit your local grocer and ask, “What is your definition of local?”, “From where do you purchase products?” and “Why don’t you purchase from Central Oregon farms?” Ag Connect is asking these questions and working with some local grocers to introduce more local food and farms.
Ag Connect has been making it convenient for our community to get fresh, local food for eight years now! It’s ultra fresh, harvested within 24-48 hours of getting to your kitchen! We sell to approximately 50 families a week, year-round and our new pickup is at Central Oregon Locavore every Wednesday from 12-6pm. We also offer home delivery so you can get fresh, local organic groceries delivered to your door, weekly, year-round! And if you want to dine out and know you’re supporting those same local farm heroes, check out any of our many awesome commercial clients: Jackson’s Corner, 123 Ramen, Sunny Yoga Kitchen, Boone Dog Pizza, We’re the Wurst, Plantd, Bad Wolf Bakery & Bistro, Broken Top Bottle Shop, Rockin’ Dave’s, Local Slice, 900 Wall, Deschutes Brewery, DumpCity Dumplings, Lone Pine Coffee, Primal Cuts or Metolius Tea.
What would it take to feed you and your family the most nutritious food? How can you become a community member who supports your local economy? Go to the places that are “giving back” to the farmers and the to the local land in which we live. Go to the places that are offering authentically local options. Get a CSA, go to Locavore, and visit www.AgriculturalConnections.com. If you really want to support the local food network, choosing not to support big agriculture and big business might be your next step. It’s about supporting the people who work the land in the area we call home. It’s about investing in home and Oregon is home — Central Oregon is home.
Photos by Josselyn Peterson & courtesy of Agricultural Connection