Local Is Out... Farmer Direct Is In.

Since the renewed interest in local food over the last few years, a proliferation of farmers’ markets and popular third party distributors have worked hard to get their piece of the pie.  Still with only 1% of the food economy spent on local food, it’s a small piece to share and local farmers are getting the crumbs.

It’s common to hear farmers discuss how they used to do better business before “local” became popular.  Now many family farms have to work two or three markets to make the sales that they used to make at just one market.  The propagation of farmers markets have spread the business thin resulting in lower sales and increased expenses (fuel, booth fees, licenses, sales materials, tents, tables, etc. not to mention staffing).

Speaking of Farmers Markets!  That’s the very venue where many of the third party distributors introduced themselves.  Riding on the theme that they supported local farmers by offering a more convenient “CSA-like” delivery program, they pitched their tents and flashed their fancy trucks next to local farmers at markets whenever possible.  After wooing the public, they expand their “Whole Foods– like” delivery program with suave marketing that no small family farm could compete with.  Farmers are then forced to sell once again to the middle man who controls the market price, buying from whoever sells the cheapest.

The original intent of the “local” food movement: having a direct connection to your farmer and environment, is now void and being done away with by well-financed middle man distributors, pushing “local” produce 200+ miles and statewide.

And here we are.  “Local” is now becoming as watered down as “organic” and the local farmers and consumers are the ones who loose.  You see, the supply for local food does not fit the modern centralized distribution program and the only way to know for sure that your food is local is to buy direct from the farmer.  Farmers Markets, CSA Programs and other venues where the buyer can directly source their food from the producer is the only way to assure that your money IS supporting local farmers.

The truth of the matter is, Austin based distributors are hurting the “local” food movement.  Farmers across the state are reporting decreased sales, up to 60% losses in 2013, as the “local” food consolidators move into their communities taking over the market by promising more convenience with no commitment.  This pseudo-local food trend may level out in another year or two as the public catches on.  The question is, can small family farmers last that long?

If we want to save local food, we need to buy farmer direct.

Know your farmer.  Know your food.


Ally said...

Can you please provide more detail on this statement: "The truth of the matter is, Austin based distributors are hurting the “local” food movement."? I'm curious to know who these distributors are? Where do they sell? How would I recognize them as a "distributor"?

Anonymous said...

If they are not farmers... they are food consolidators and distributors. Should an Austin based business be serving Houston? Is local food in Austin, local food for Houston? Do we continue to compromise local food by increasing the supply to 250 miles while bypassing all of the local farmers in the community. Can you visit the farm? These are the questions we need to ask.

Anonymous said...

Farmers are reporting that sales are down at the markets too. People are choosing home delivery distributors over visiting the the farmers markets.

Anonymous said...

I see both sides of the coin here. Yes people are choosing home delivery options, but this isn't just a trend for food. Online shopping in general is big with consumers; whether that's a positive or negative thing I'm not sure, but it's definitely not specific to 'local' foods. Speaking of 'local', being residents of one of the largest states in the country that has a pretty tough environment in certain areas to grow food, I think we need to be a little less stringent on laying down 'rules' on what is local. I love to support farms that are in my city, but there are certain things that just aren't going to grow (thrive) within city limits like citrus or animal proteins for example. I'm getting tired of hearing such negative and judgmental comments on who's really local or restricting farmer's markets to vendors located within a small mileage of the market. Instead of fighting each other in the agricultural community on a percentage of the 1%, why not focus our efforts on bolstering each other's businesses and grabbing another 5% of the population's attention?? Don't we really need people to understand in general about buying from smaller companies/farms that approach business in a more ethical way? We should be promoting cooping because some producers would prefer to have someone else take their goods to market or deliver to restaurants since they are further away. To me, the argument is far deeper reaching than how far exactly are you from the market you sell at. I do agree that buying directly is a great way to go if possible and do my best to not support companies who deliberately price cut the heck out of their suppliers to create a larger profit margin for themselves.

Farmer Brad said...

I think that there is room for everyone and third party distributors can help make local food more convenient and more popular. As a local CSA farmer, what bothers me the most is the disingenuous marketing as being CSA-like and the media wrongfully promoting this. When a food company requires no commitment and customers can cancel at any time... this IS NOT CSA-like in any way. The original intent of the CSA model was for the community to financially support and commit to the farmers growing the food.

Every year we are approached by multiple third party distributors, and every year is the same. They do not want to commit or contract with growers as they are looking for what farmers need to "unload". We cannot afford to grow that way... Our CSA Membership is the only thing that we can count on.