Frothy Market

In theory, buying local is a great idea, but I believe we have hit the point where “local” has simply become another frothy and trendy marketing gimmick and it has lost its authenticity.

Here are some recent headlines that have come across my computer:

  • No. 1 warehouse club chain launches ‘locally grown’ produce program- BJ’s Wholesale defines ‘local’ as grown within a state
  • Local is an important enough platform on which to base a retailer’s entire marketing angle. Piggly Wiggly Carolina is debuting a new branding tag line: “Local Since Forever,” which broadcasts how the chain has been a local fixture since 1947.
  • Report: 75% of retailers say ‘local’ most influential product claim- U.S. food brokers believe consumer interest in ‘all natural’ and ‘organic’ foods may fade

That last blurb about organics potentially fading is of no concern to me, btw.  Those conventional brokers don’t understand our passion for organics.  “Local” will not trump or compete with organic, it’ll simply be a food fad that is exploited by everyone in the food business (which is easier for them to do, considering it’s more about an emotional connection to a story/person than the strict guidelines and principles by which the organic industry operates).

I have been planning to blog on this topic for quite some time now, but then I came across this perfect blog from Stonyfield, on which I simply cannot improve.  This woman took the words right out of my mouth.  http://www.stonyfield.com/blog/2012/06/18/greenwash-at-the-green-market/

I snapped this picture of a farm stand on my way home.  It’s a great example of the power of the local story- a roadside stand in summer, people feel like they’re buying from a nice, hard-working farmer whose produce is as fresh and local as can be.

Image

I would wage quite a bit of money that at most only 3-4 items are locally grown.  I actually think none of it is!  Obviously, the bananas and mangoes aren’t local- and with my trained eye, I don’t think even things like the potatoes, onions, green peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes are local.  Almost none of those items are available to us yet from local farmers.  And the apples, peaches, and plums- not a chance that they’re local.  Actually, I’m pretty sure this guy drove his truck up to the warehouses in Jessup and is simply buying the same exact conventional, non-local produce that Giant and Safeway are selling.

And, more importantly to me than whether or not this stuff is local, none of it is organic.

Let the masses get exploited by yet another marketing gimmick that’s sweeping the industry, while those of us who understand the value of organics keep plugging away and growing the industry by double digits each year, just as we have for the past 30 years…

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18 Responses to Frothy Market

  1. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for writing about this. Local food grown conventionally (i.e. with chemical farming) simply guarantees that toxins & pollutants will be spread locally.

    A road side produce stand is only selling produce from their farm if there’s a farm behind it (and those items are from their crops). Otherwise the produce was brought from somewhere else & is sitting out in the heat spoiling at an advanced rate.

    What saddens me is consumers who think they’re buying from a local farmer at these stands. They’re being duped.

  2. Jim Page says:

    This posting regarding stretching the definition of “local” needs a wider audience. This is the kind of info shoppers would benefit from knowing.

  3. Doug Percival says:

    The M.O.M. store in Rockville does label some produce as “local”, though, does it not? Which in the case of M.O.M. seems to mean the mid-Atlantic region. Other things being equal, I prefer to buy locally-grown produce since that should reduce the fossil fuel consumption of transporting food long distances. The mid-Atlantic region has a good climate for growing produce much of the year, and yet so much of the produce in stores, organic or otherwise, is grown in California deserts irrigated with increasingly scarce water and then shipped 3000 miles in refrigerated diesel trucks.

    • Jim Page says:

      Hey, Doug!

      Small world, if you’re the Doug who jams at Sapper’s! I was a produce merchandiser and manager for Publix years ago and was always astonished at how far many of our items traveled before getting to Florida, where you can grow a toothpick if you stick it in the ground and water it.

      Hope to see you soon with a guitar in your hand!

      –Jim

    • Scott says:

      Yes, MOM’s carries many local products. What is your point? My blog addresses the exploitation of the “local” marketing message and how the message is becoming inauthentic. Of our local products, we prefer them to be organically grown.

      “Other things” are almost never equal, even in the case of carbon footprint. A larger organic farm is likely to operate on every level more efficiently than a small, local farm (including the actual transportation of the product), which reduces the carbon footprint. For example, we get trucks from small local farms all the time that are half filled and driving to only a few far-apart destinations. The larger farmers will bring their products packed from floor to ceiling, front to back- on trucks making many stops only a few miles apart.

      And then there is the carbon footprint of the production and transportation and application of the pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals (often petroleum based) of the non-organic products grown on small, local farms. Not to mention the environmental damage these chemicals do to our waterways and beneficial insect populations (like honeybees, for example).

      At MOM’s, “organic” is by far our first priority. “local” is a distant 2nd. If a local farmer is farming non-organically, they are a part of the problem, not the solution. I’d rather that non-organic farmers farm as far away from where I live as possible, actually!

      • Doug Percival says:

        Thanks for your reply, Scott. When I wrote “other things being equal” what I meant by “other things” was “organic and sold at MOM’s”. I only buy organic produce and I buy almost all of it from MOM’s, and have done so for many years. So that’s my first priority too.

        But I would also like to reduce the carbon emissions from transporting the food, so when I buy organic produce at MOM’s, I buy produce labeled “local” whenever possible, on the assumption that locally-grown organic produce, perhaps from Pennsylvania, required less fossil fuels to get it to the store than organic produce from California. (I also figure that in the long run it helps to support the growth of organic agriculture in the mid-Atlantic region.)

        I understand from your reply that there are other factors, like whether the trucks are fully loaded and their routing, that also impact the carbon footprint of transport. I had never thought of that. But those factors are not really visible to me as a customer — “local” on the label is. Am I mistaken to go by that? Is there something else that I can use for guidance?

    • MT says:

      And to add to Scott’s response: check out his post “Fuzzy Math” in this column from Jan 2011, which addresses whether it may be better overall to just let things grow where they grow best and then transport as necessary.

  4. Yvonne says:

    I wonder about the organic label as well. I know that there are regulations to meet to be labeled organic. However, I think folks also assume that there is a small farm, caring for the earth mentality involved in organic farming. I’m not real well informed, but for the price I can get a pound of organic spinach for at Sam’s, I’ve got to believe that agribusiness is involved. And involved solely because there is money to be made.

  5. What I would like to see at MOMS is support for the farms transitioning to organic farming or using non-conventional, non-chemical means but not-yet certified. That would enable us to get better quality, more local produce. While I agree 100% that the term “local” is the new “organic” and can mean very little, I do like to support actual for-real local guys who are out there fighting the good fight. In part, this is b/c the soil in which they are grown is our local soil. There’s some evidence to suggest that we get better immune boosts from foods grown in our local soil. I also have concerns about the really big organic farms out West. While they’re not using Monsanto-soaked evil in their products, they’ve often strayed from crop rotation and ground cover practices that helped “organic” to mean “good.”
    As is so often the case, I wish we could just make folks think it out, instead of relying on a buzz word. I don’t WANT eggs from vegetarian chickens fed organic soy. Good eggs come from chickens that eat bugs and frogs and worms.
    Thoughtful post. Keep fighting the good fight and bringing us good grub.

    • Scott says:

      Hi, Deana- we’ve been pretty big supporters of this group… http://www.futureharvestcasa.org/. They work as hard as anyone to get local farmers to transition to organic. Also, I think you’re wrong about those large organic farms out west regarding “straying from crop rotation and ground cover practices”. The produce folks here at MOM’s tell me otherwise.

  6. Andrew Notarian says:

    The Ithaca Farmer’s Market, which in my mind is the gold standard for local farmer’s markets, defines local as within 30 miles of Ithaca. If we tried to eat only food from within 30 miles from Rockville, we would likely starve. I also always like to confound people by pointing out that the Coca Cola bottling plant on Gude Drive makes Coca-Cola a “local” product.

  7. Gary Skulnik says:

    Kudos to Scott for calling it like he sees it. I think local and organic is the ideal…. But all things being equal, I choose organic any time. My only dispute is that not all farmers markets are the same. Some are truly local farmers, and some give back to the local community through environmental education and consumer outreach. At the end of the day, though, a green minded consumer is best served by shopping at moms organic market, a locally owned, wind powered green business.

  8. I have stopped at numerous stands to ask about their produce, whether they use pesticides, etc and if the corn or tomatoes are heirloom/non-GMO, and the usual reply I get is “What is that?”
    Huh? They don’t know what kind of seeds they are planting? I am amazed at their ignorance. I found a booklet put out by my state called So Good Farm Guide that lists all the organic farms in my state by county. I have found fantastic places that do grow organic, know what GMO’s are, grow grass fed animals, free range chickens/eggs and organic dairy. It is a fantastic source and I no longer have to make so many trips to the organic stores an hour away. I found a site called Vitacost where I get GF and organic products cheaper and with free shipping and it comes from only the next state. I’m growing some of my own produce, but I’m still learning. I’ve only gotten tomatoes and cukes. Everything else isn’t producing anything!
    I’m anxiously awaiting the Mom’s in Waldorf, MD. Nothing seems to be happening there. Building looks done but is sitting with no activity. Wondering what the hold up is~

    Mellan

  9. Kenny says:

    Cyndi and I have run across similiar examples at a few “Farmers Markets” here in Arizona. We found a net sack of garlic … from China, and multiple wooden boxes with tags and labels indicating “Product of Mexico”.

  10. Scott says:

    To Doug Percival-

    I like to support local for 1 primary reason- it is often more fresh. Even that can get a little tricky, however. We’ve had local farmers bring us basically their leftovers from the farmers markets, which were sitting out in 90-degree temps for hours on end. Even though it was picked the prior day, the lack of proper handling had greatly diminished the freshness.

    Same happens with some of these smaller farmers who don’t have the systems and equipment for proper cooling. There are several local farms who over the years have given us products that I know is being picked and then not refrigerated for almost a full 24 hours. When products are picked, they need to be immediately cooled.

    Our main supplier for local produce for the last 20+ years made deliveries to us for years without a refrigerated truck. That really took its toll on the produce, so we were only willing to order in smaller quantities- and we’d run out of the product before their next delivery arrived. Thankfully, they got larger and were finally able to afford a refrigerated truck.

    It is frankly the easiest to buy from larger organic farms- their product is good and they are efficient. Lady Moon is a great local farm that has some scale. They do a great job handling their products- and they’re local. You can see the quality difference in their products. That’s truly the best case scenario.

    You, as the consumer, can’t be privy to what we know about each farmer/supplier. I think that if you choose organic no matter what- the odds are that you’re doing the right thing.

    For the small, inefficiently operated, local organic farmers- we do whatever we can to support them. We SO want them to succeed- hopefully scaling up, taking advantage of economies of scale, and running efficient operations. The larger these small organic farmers get, the better it is for our local environment and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. If they’re not organic (or not transitioning to organic), they get zero support from us.

  11. Jim Page says:

    This is a fascinating and informative series of comments. Scott’s mention of ordering in smaller quantities and sometimes running out of product reminds me of how I sweated my produce orders to get the right balance. I still sometimes have dreams about that and it was 30 years ago. Nice to see folks paying attention to where their food comes from and how it’s grown. It really does matter.

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