A new campaign urges Kansas Citians to eat local for the holidaysBy JAMES A. FUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
If you’re like most people, you don’t think much about where your food comes from.
You buy it and eat it. Food is food, right? It doesn’t matter where it comes from.
Not exactly. To an increasing number of people, it matters a great deal. Take the Greater Kansas City Healthy Food Policy Coalition. The coalition is made up of individuals and organizations that have interests in a variety of issues relating to America’s food system. Their common goal: Get better food to the people of Kansas City.
One of the best ways to do that is to encourage Kansas Citians to buy and eat more locally grown and raised foods. To that end, the coalition has issued an “Eat-Local-for-the-Holidays” challenge through December.
The coalition’s Web site — www.eatlocalkc.net — explains the idea.
“We are asking that you make a pledge to add just one local food to your holiday meal. Maybe it’s a squash that you purchase from the farmers market. Maybe you’ll use Missouri pecans for your pecan pie. Or maybe you’ll buy your milk from a local cooperative. Whatever you do, it will make a difference.”
What difference will it make if we eat more local foods? Where can we find local foods? And why should we care? We put those questions and more to a variety of supporters of the Eat-Local-for-the-Holidays challenge.
Spokeswoman, Greater Kansas City Healthy Food Policy Coalition
What sort of response have you had so far to this challenge?
We launched it after Halloween. But we do have more than 50 now signed up. Word of mouth is very important.
Your Web site says the Eat Local Challenge is modeled after a similar campaign in Seattle. Is the movement a national trend?
I do think it’s a national trend. People are getting more and more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s been processed.
What can you cite to support that?
In the Aug. 31 issue of Time magazine the cover story was entitled “The Real Cost of Cheap Food.” For many years, people have been concerned about the cost of their food, not realizing the sacrifices they were making in quality, taste and nutritional value.
Just a few weeks ago, the USDA announced a campaign called “Know Your Farmer. Know Your Food.” At the launch of that, they announced they were going to have a farmers market outside of the White House. Also, Michelle Obama planted a garden at the White House. Certainly, if you go to any farmers markets in Kansas City you will see thousands of people there. And there are the local CSA (or community supported agriculture) models.
Could you explain CSAs and how they work?
At Hen House markets, they have a CSA program. Every week (during the growing season) you get a bag of locally grown or raised products — eggs, meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, any kind of item like that.
That’s important to local farmers because it ensures them a market, because then they know, for example, that they’ve got 50 families that are going to expect a bag of locally grown or raised products from them every week. It ensures them a regular revenue stream. That’s very important.
Not to be mean, but why should we care about whether they have a market?
The food choices that we make affect the viability or the strength of our local food system. If we are purchasing all of our food that is processed or raised elsewhere, we will very soon lose that capability to have any of those locally produced items.
Why will it be more nutritious?
The longer on the tree, the more nutrients they are going to have.
What do you want people to learn most?
We would hope that people can learn that it’s pretty easy to eat local. Now there are more grocery stores locally that are making local foods available. There are also many farmers markets and restaurants that feature local foods.
How do I know if a food I want to buy is local or not?
Most grocery stores now have a local food section, or an organic food section. Milk and eggs are two easy things to find in most grocery stores. You just have to look at the labels. For others, ask the grocery store manager.
President of KC Healthy Kids, a charitable foundation committed to reducing childhood obesity and promoting fit and healthy kids
What’s important about the eat local challenge?
That there is an opportunity for people to make a commitment to buy local foods.
Why do you think most people haven’t?
I just think people haven’t thought about it, and once they hear about it they seem to be receptive to the idea. This is just an opportunity to raise awareness that you do have choices when you buy your foods.
What’s the biggest impediment to people eating more locally produced foods?
Why aren’t they more available?
I don’t think we have an appropriate distribution system for getting those foods into people’s hands. And I don’t think people are aware where you can purchase those local foods.
How can people find out where to purchase locally produced foods?
Go to the www.eatlocalkc.net Web site. That will tell you the locations of local farmers markets, grocery stores and restaurants that feature local food, what’s fresh now and how you can get locally produced foods.
Farm-to-market coordinator for Good Natured Family Farms, an alliance of 150 family farms within 200 miles of Kansas City
How many stores is food from your Good Natured Family Farms co-op in now?
We started with one store in 1996 — the Hen House at 83rd and Mission. Thirteen years later, we’re now in 30 stores.
What do you hang your marketing hat on?
We hope people know that every time they buy Good Natured Family Farms products they can be assured that it’s coming from a local small family farm, it’s high quality, made with integrity and that the animals are all free-range and raised without any antibiotics or hormones. What we are trying to sell is a high quality local food that is raised in an environmentally friendly sort of way.
But can people really make a big difference if they just buy a little local food?
Let’s say you have 400,000 customers in the Kansas City metro area who shop at Hen House and Price Chopper stores. And let’s say that each one of those customers spent just $10 a week on local foods. That’s $4 million a week that’s being returned to your local economy.
Then if you take that times 52 weeks in a year, well, you can see how effective that could be. We can be less than 2 percent of the market and still provide a choice, and have an important impact on the community.
Owner of Shatto Milk Co.
Why is it important for consumers to support local foods?
First and foremost, quality. Most foods come from miles away. By supporting local foods, you’re getting milk the same day it came from the cow.
Another is the relationship with the farmer. Whenever you buy a product from out of this region, you have no connection to where your food came from. Our farm is open to customers 365 days a year, and we have tours so people can see how our product is produced.
And by supporting local, you are truly supporting the local economy. The vast majority of money stays in this area and goes to supporting new jobs and purchasing goods and services from other local vendors.
Do a lot of customers come to your farm?
We host about 50,000 people a year. If anybody wants to come out, there’s a map on our Web site at www.shattomilk.com.
Do you make anything else besides milk?
We just started making aged cheeses. And then for the holidays, we have all the butter, the cream, and even a pumpkin-spice eggnog.
Spokesman for Prairieland Dairy in Firth, Neb.
Why do you think customers should buy your dairy products?
The trend is for people to feel good about their food. And they know when they buy Good Natured Family Farms products you know exactly where that product comes from. You know how the cows have been treated, you know what the cows are fed.
But what if the only thing shoppers really care about is price?
We need to be able to provide products to people that they can afford. We try to stay within 25 to 50 cents per unit of the mass producers.
Why would anyone pay anything more?
The good thing about seeing Good Natured Family Farms on the label is you know it came right from a farm. You really can think of local food as having fewer moving parts. Less things to break down.
And it really means a lot to the farmers. Farmers are the most appreciative people of consumers purchasing their products.
To reach James A. Fussell, call 816-234-4460 or send e-mail to jfussell (@) kcstar.com.
© 2009 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansascity.com
- "Local" and "organic" are not synonymous (they don't mean the same thing, no matter how some may try to mingle the terms).
- It's good to see the new coalition getting started, but KC's original Eat Local Challenge web site is a few years old (see http://www.EatLocalKC.com for background and other local initiatives).
- CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is not just another marketing scheme - we have a broad spectrum of CSA program varieties to choose from in the Kansas City area (see http://www.KC-CSAC.org for more info).
- A farm-organized CSA usually puts the grower and the eater face-to-face*, every week during the growing season. Ask important questions (Know Your Grower and Ask About Organic - http://www.KCFoodCircle.org) when you sign up for a CSA share.
* The more common CSA model is designed to bring the eater into direct contact with their farmer, eliminating the “middle man.” Kansas City has a growing number of CSA farms where you and your family can visit the farm, get to know your farmer, and create a closer connection to where your food comes from.
Let me start off with the advice that CSAs are a fantastic thing. And, that I am searching for our next CSA. But just like the proverbial barrel of apples, one bad experience can detract from the others — if you let it.
It is rare that a CSA does NOT work out, but as more and more people embrace eating local, it can happen. Here's the story and how to make sure your CSA experience is positive.
We've had the same CSA for five years. In the beginning, it was like Christmas each week. Especially in July and August when a huge box filled with heirloom tomatoes was a weekly gift. We were pretty supportive of our farm and the fact that some of the best restaurants in town were building menus around the very same produce we were lucky to eat ourselves.
The farm flourished, expanding to sell meat and eggs and preserves. Building green houses and on the verge of offering a winter CSA (fresh, local lettuce in February!). Then, there were some family problems with the farm last year. The boxes got lighter. We saw the heirloom tomatoes on restaurant menus — from our farm — but we got few of them, and few of the other unique varieties.
My weekly trip to the farmers market for a few extra goodies turned from an optional trip to a requirement in order to get enough produce for the week, despite paying more each year.
The family split. We felt awful for them and figured the bad year was justifiable. We decided to stay another year and support them through this difficult time.
The cost of the CSA went up with gas prices, and stayed up. The boxes got lighter and lighter, despite a mild summer and a lot of rain. Some weeks, there was not enough produce in the box to serve for more than two meals for a family of three. On average, a CSA box should provide enough produce for a family of four for a week.
The pickup location moved to the lot where some of the restaurants the farm supplied were located. I saw items posted on their menus from our farm that were not in our packages. The heirloom tomatoes were absent for us. Instead, these special items were displayed in baskets on the pickup table and sold to other folks as a farmers market. Of course, we were welcome to pay extra for those heirloom tomatoes, dragon tongue beans, elephant garlic and exotic items — even though our deposits bought the seed and supplies.
Friends we had recommended the CSA to were complaining to us about it. One said she found store stickers on some of the peaches in her box. We talked to the farmer, she denied any problems and accused of us not wanting to support local farmers.
You see, restaurants do not pay up front. Sometimes they don't pay for weeks after a produce delivery, and some don't ever pay. Farms rely on CSA subscribers for up front money for the farm and a guaranteed income. CSA subscribers are the only secure income for these farms.
I took my extra money to my own farmers market to buy the other five days worth of fruits and vegetables for our week. When the CSA quit a week early, they also requested for us to be sure and sign up again for next year, the sooner the better for them. I hope they do well, I think they should probably just focus on the restaurant business since that is their priority.
I am looking for another CSA. I am NOT quitting the CSA process. I believe in it. I believe in family farms and supporting them. But a CSA is a partnership, and it has to be based on trust just like a friendship.
Joining a CSA is a new experience for first-timers. An adjustment. You pay up front, you don't get to choose what you get, you cook what comes ... it's hard enough to adjust for a lot of folks new to eating local without additional problems. But, trust me, once you make the adjustment, you'll never want to go back to the grocery store path. It's that good.
Here are some things you can do to make sure your CSA experience is a good one.
- Talk to more than one CSA provider and get to know them a bit
- Visit the farms if possible
- Ask how many acres the farm has, how many subscriptions they will sell, and how many restaurants or other businesses they supply
- Ask if they work with other farms, some do, to provide more variety and serve more subscribers
- If you are excited by heirloom produce, ask if the farmer grows unique varieties
- As them what an average box contains
- Talk to other subscribers for several CSAs and ask them about their experience, or even trade photos of your weekly boxes to compare
- If you can't commit to a weekly pickup, ask if the farm delivers, if not, you may be better off shopping at the farmers market
- Do you have a pretty good idea how to cook most anything, or do you cook only from recipes? If you are not flexible in your cooking approach, you may be better off with the farmers market since it is more like shopping
- Get recommendations on the best farms from your local food circle staff. They know everyone and may be able to help advise you on what farm is the best fit