America has a growing and welcome infatuation with ultra-fresh and locally produced food, with celebrities like First Lady Michelle Obama leading the way. People who like to shop locally and healthily have been nicknamed ‘locavores’ by the media, and it is becoming a real fashion craze! At last! A fashion craze everyone can join in with, young and old alike. In fact so popular has the demand for locally produced food become, the label ‘local’ is the most influential claim a product can currently boast. Figures from the Department of Agriculture show that retail sales of fresh produce are up 15%, year on year throughout the twenty-first century, and a number of National Grocery chains are leading the way.
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sprouts Farmers Market has its ‘roots’ as a humble neighborhood fruit stand but over the years has evolved into one of the largest chains of natural grocery stores in the USA. It boasts 150 stores along with 11,000 employees and serves customers in 8 states. As you would expect from the name, Sprouts specialize in fresh, natural and organic foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables are at the heart of their philosophy and firmly at the heart of their stores, taking center stage in an impressive display of wholesomeness and brilliant color! The focus is on supplying customers with produce that is abundant and affordable, and with that in mind they source seasonal produce from local and regional farms.
In addition, Sprouts donate all their unsold but edible food to local hunger relief agencies and charities; avoid selling unhealthy global brands; and instead promote local fitness centers and trainers. Sprouts are dedicated to encouraging healthier communities.
Wegmans Food Market
Wegmans has a fifty acre research farm in New York State that specializes in producing sustainable and organic food. Wegmans’ mission is to provide local and healthy food for everyday families, and most innovative of all is that they offer a schedule to customers to show exactly when fresh supplies will be received into store so that customers can eat food that has been freshly picked with a minimum of delay.
Wegmans has its own organic farm in Loysville, PA and works with partner growers who concentrate on growing flavorful produce by naturally enhancing the fertility of their soil. Wegmans handpick local growing partners who share their passion and commitment in order to supply stores with fresh, quality produce. Wegmans must be doing something right; their profits rose 8.7% in 2011.
Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods have 340 stores in the UK, Canada and across 39 states in the USA. They stock 2400 natural and organic products and offer over 900 GMO free verified items. They are currently partnering with Gotham Greens in order to launch their first commercial scale greenhouse with its own retail grocery space. It will be built on the roof of the new Whole Foods Market store in Brooklyn. The greenhouse will measure an amazing 20,000 sq. ft. (1,860 sq. m) and is due to open in the Fall of 2013. The greenhouse will provide the Brooklyn store, and others in NYC, with quality pesticide free food, such as leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes.
Gotham Greens note that their greenhouses reduce the risks to produce from disease and pests, and enables produce to be grown throughout the year. Viraj Puri, Gotham Greens Co-Founder has commented that this partnership with Whole Foods Market will move public discussion from one about the problem with food miles to the benefits of ‘food footsteps’.
The advantages of buying locally produced food
One of the main advantages of buying locally produced food is just as Puri says! It cuts down the need for ‘food miles’ via transportation. On average, produce in the US has to travel 1500 miles before it gets to a store, and while it’s travelling it has to be preserved. All that time it is losing nutrients and flavor the whole way.
The big supermarket chains are recognizing the growing demand for locally produced food and are adjusting their product lines accordingly. The fastest growing segment in food retail at this time is locally grown and/or organic produce. They are therefore seeing increases in profits. Walmart and Safeway have both introduced new lines and are supporting local farmers to a greater or lesser extent.
It’s important not to forget small entrepreneurial food shops, and Mom and Pop convenience and grocery stores too. Their margins are much slimmer. There are also local farmers’ markets and food festivals of course. There are over 7100 regular farmers’ markets in the US deserving of your support.
Probably the biggest reason for shopping for locally grown produce is that you are enabling your community to survive and thrive. Supermarkets who don’t stock local food rob the local community. Money is drawn from the local economy to shareholders and international corporations instead of communities, and of course these large supermarkets generate a huge amount of waste and over packaging. Shopping locally creates jobs and supports job security.
Keep it green: keep it local!