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.