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The Rise of the Locavores (And Why You Should Join Them)

by Jaclyn Clark on February 17, 2014

I remember the first time I ran a farmer’s market in the summer of 2008. In the middle of the sweltering June sun, I unloaded the vegetables from the box truck, displaying the large array of fresh produce picked from the morning fields.  The sweet smell of strawberries aroused the air, anchored by crates of zucchini, onions, and cucumbers. To my left, the  Dairy displayed an array of country classics from potato salad to pepperoni rolls to the richest chocolate milk in Western Pennsylvania. To my right, a neighboring farm decorated their stand with produce and jellies. We waved, establishing a mutual equivalent of price and mutual bond between farms. At that, thebell rang and the market began. After a whirlwind four hours of selling and recipe swapping, I packed up the little remaining produce, and headed home, only to replay this scenario everyday for the remainder of that summer.


Since my first market in 2008 up until my latest in August 2013, the attendance and sales at farmer’s markets has risen exponentially.  The emergence of farmers’ markets in urban centers, college campuses, and rural parks speaks to the shifts in the demands of American people. Consumers are beginning to long for vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh picked sweet corn grown in their own backyard. Far from eclectic foodies, ordinary, middle-class Americans are pulling away from the distant produce in monopolized super markets to buy local, buy fresh, and to support local farms. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, small farms have increased by 20% in the last six years, after nearly a century of decline.  From 2012 to 2013 alone, the number of farmers’ markets has increased by 3.6% nationally and has capped $1 billion dollars in total revenue. From trendy, urban neighborhoods to suburban family communities, locavores, the catchy nickname for local-food proponents, are undeniably changing the economy and face of local farming and production.

The rise of the Locavore is powerful in the least, however does face challenges. The efforts of small farms fight an uphill battle against the big businesses of food retail, such as Walmart and Kroger. We live in an America, where peaches and tomatoes are available year-round, stamped with an inconspicuous label of location and date of harvest; an America where strawberries are sprayed with red dye to increase their appeal and hide the effects of freeze-dried storage; where grapes are genetically crossed with apples in an effort to create a hybrid fruit worthy of withstanding the miles of travel to various locations. Every year, I explain the absence of strawberries in September and the lack of apples in June. My day is filled with customers asking, “why are the berries so small?” or “why is the corn so thin?”, as they compare them to the genetically-modified, gigantic blueberries from the grocery store. Small farmers simply cannot compete with the $2.00 a dozen corn and $1.50 bag of apples. With one bad rainfall or a week’s drought, our prices double and our supply drops, placing livelihood on a balance determined by the clouds and the atmosphere.

Although food retail giants have begun to embrace the local small farms, beginning fresh initiatives by offering local produce from various farms for a certain week. Every other day, Noe, a fellow farm worker, delivers 100 dozen corn to the local Shop n’ Save, and another 50 dozen to smaller grocery stores and food stands. Despite how beneficial and attractive this mayappear, the allure is backed by false advertising and false hope. Whole Foods Market, the self-declared leading organic and natural food retailer, has committed to barely buying from four local farms at each store. With the best intentions, local produce will never be able to take over the produce aisle in a major grocery store. The inconsistency of product and lack of constant demand prevent the domination of local food in the demand of a sustainable market.

My grocery store will never be filled with tomatoes from my county or peaches from our orchard, but I argue that the local food movement dominates in other ways. Throughout the summertime, the farm is constantly busy, from pick-your-own peaches to birthday parties to our regular shoppers; our markets continue to annually top their sales from the previous year. The daily farmers’ markets are packed with new faces and loyal customers that continue to support and spread the word about our business. Local farms can tell step by step how food is grown and prepared. From seeding to harvesting to washing to packaging, local food promotes food safety by eliminating the middleman. Therefore, local foods are packed with nutrients due to the direct transit from farm to table.

From the red face of a child after eating fresh picked berries to the amazement and praise after the first ear of our sweet corn, there is one fact I know to be true; local food tastes better. From the crunch of the first Paula Red to the roasted goodness of an acorn squash, local produce surpasses any retail giant with the freshness and variety of flavors. One taste says it all; buy local, buy fresh, stay happy.



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