Local makes sense -- and dollars for growers

Leo Keene holds his Blue Moon garlic

Leo Keene holds his Blue Moon garlic

Local or nearly local products, carefully grown and marketed directly between the grower and the end buyer, suddenly seem like the smartest recent development in the U.S. food system. (It has not been sudden for the growers who have been earning a skimpy living for decades - but maybe the financial rewards are finally beginning to appear.) Today's New York Times included a special section devoted to small business. In the lead article Kim Severson describes the growing demand for local foods and describes research demonstrating customers' willingness to pay more for the safety and quality much locally grown food offers. The spinach scare of 2006 involved some spinach raised organically on huge farms, then trucked thousands of miles. Immediately after the terrible news about the devastating strain of E. coli and the illness and death resulting from it, Michael Pollan noted in the New York Times that his sense of his food's safety comes from knowing and trusting its growers.

I have never worried about salmonella in foods that involve uncooked eggs (homemade mayonnaise, pumpkin chiffon pie) for the same reasons. I buy eggs from small producers only. From April through November each year, I buy them directly from the hands that grow them in neighboring Scott County - Elmwood Stock Farm's Ann Bell Stone. In winter months, I buy from slightly larger organic producers who sell their products at the Good Foods Market.

According to Severson, the magnetic appeal of local food is changing how catering groups, Whole Foods markets, and some small chains of restaurants win and keep customers. Every genuine move in the direction of commitment to supporting local growers helps the growers, the consumers, the local community, and its tax base.

Michael Abelman helps make clear the new economics of buying and selling food locally in Fields of Plenty, a set of profiles of farmers who grow "real" food sustainably. Most of the farmers sell their food directly to buyers or take part in farmers' markets.