Organic Grocers Expanding Local Offerings
photo: J Novak
You can't help but to get a bit irked when you enter organic markets and find loads of organic produce trucked in from 3,000 miles away. Unless you're from the small patch of earth in California that seems to be the Mecca of organic mixed greens and arugula, you'd better hit the farmers' market to find the good stuff. Earth Fare is Columbia's equivalent of Whole Foods, but a much smaller chain and last Saturday, Earth Fare's Columbia, S.C. location played host to their first ever all local farmers' market event as a part of its new emphasis on local producers.Earth Fare's first ever farmers' market is an indication of a widened focus on local providers within the store. Vendors included local farmers, sustainable raw milk and egg producers, soap makers, and even organic dog treat producers. According to Earth Fare's Laurie Aker, the chain's 16 stores have the goal of going from 60 percent to 90 percent local produce year round.
Larger Chains Expanding the Safety Net for Local Producers
Larger chains like Whole Foods are also working to make it easier for local producers. Whole Foods Market's Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) provides up to $10 million in low-interest loans to local producers. Loans range from $1,000 to $100,000 and can be for things like investing in new equipment or converting to organic production in order to allow farmers to produce enough product to provide for larger chains, according to their Web site.
At times organic produce presents an interesting issue for eco-conscious buyers because the increasing demand for organic produce allows organic growers to be located much further away from the point of sale. That's because more money can be spent on transportation and refrigeration costs. But the true cost of shipping those fruits and vegetables farther comes in oil usage.
As more organic large scale grocery stores sell the offerings of local producers, the safety net for local farmers expands. Deeper pocketed sellers, like Earth Fare, make it possible to get flavorful, newly harvested produce even if you happened to miss the farmers' market that week.