Food cooperatives that support local and organic growers are rising in popularity, at least in part because they make sound economic sense. Sustainable, or “green,” growing, is not just responsible – it is lucrative. Yesterday, the Vermont-based local food advocacy group “Strolling of the Heifers,” published its annual “Locavore index” which ranks U.S. states by their commitment to local food sources. The survey looks at available data for all 50 states, totaling the number of farmer’s markets, CSAs (consumer-supported agriculture operations), and the number of food hubs per capita, as well as the percentage of school districts with Farm-to-School programs. The data collected is summarized in a map of the U.S., titled “How Locavore -Oriented Is Your State?” with the highest ranking states colored bright green, and the least local-friendly a greenish-brown algae color. Perhaps not surprisingly, Vermont is the highest ranking state on this list, with Texas dead last.
In praise of the local food cooperative:
If one truly wishes to make one’s mark in the world, or at least leave it in better condition than when one first came into it, an economically sensible way to do it is to support local and organic growers by shopping in the local food cooperative. Rant follows:
To start with, the fruits and vegetables are fresher. And they look like fruits and vegetables and less like plastic ornaments. The variety of produce and grocery items available is unbelievable. If one has political, economic, or spiritual objections to advertising or packaging, one has simply to wander over to the bulk section, where even the most obscure food item (hemp seed? colorful varieties of quinoa?) can be had in any desired amount for a significant price break when compared with supermarket prices. Local food cooperatives often have member-worker programs whereby members of the co-op receive a significant discount on their food bill in return for a modest number of hours worked per week helping out, stocking shelves, fronting, culling veggies, helping customers, bagging, etc. This discount offsets the slightly higher prices of local and organic foods, making the amount of food bought per dollar compare quite favorably with the amount of food bought per dollar at the larger supermarket chains. Because the food cooperative is a community effort, participation through member-work, or simply shopping there, can turn an ordinary grocery errand into a social experience, pleasantly prolonging one’s day by passing the time with similarly-minded progressive sorts of people. The food cooperative will take a few cents off the food bill for the use of cloth bags. Empty boxes from the grocery inventory are put to good use at the front end for customers to carry away their purchases. The food co-op also serves as a focal point for community activism; one can often find educational documentaries on environmental topics, or classes in knitting, massage, reiki, making spring rolls, or cooking gluten-free taking place in the community space. End of rant.
If one is inspired to participate in a local food cooperative, or start one, but is still wondering about the economics of the local and organic food movement, one is encouraged how economically sensible green practices might be. “Strolling of the Heifers” offers some reasons to support your local growers. Because the food cooperatives are community based, you might well run into the very people who are growing your food while shopping. This can make for fascinating conversations. Supporting local growers translates into economic support for your whole community. Having to ship the food a shorter distance to market reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, and helps keep prices low by cutting down on transportation costs and the food arrives fresher. By reducing reliance on mono-culture (growing of only one crop), local growing keeps the soil healthy. Farmer’s markets draw tourists and tourist dollars. And local growers preserve open space, which is much prettier than suburban sprawl. Ultimately, if one has to spend a dollar on food, wouldn’t it be nicer to ensure that dollar stays in the community, where you might see it again when the farmer you gave it to comes into your store to buy your merchandise?
The “Strolling of the Heifers” Parade will be held this year in Brattleboro, Vermont on June 7. The agriculturally-themed parade is part of a weekend of events with entertainment and educational events. The Slow Living Summit, which precedes the Stroll Weekend, will bring citizens together to explore sustainable approaches to living. And there will be food. One can learn more about these events at www.StrollingoftheHeifers.com and www.SlowLivingSummit.org. One is also encouraged to patronize the local food cooperative, and learn about how sound, green environmental practices can manifest as sensible economics. Think global. Act local. Be green.
Opinion by Laura Prendergast