Oct. 21, 2010By Susan Orzell-Rantanen Observer correspondent
To the roster of herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore describing the varied eating habits of the animal kingdom, add one more: localvore. The localvore eats only foods grown or produced within an average of a 100-mile radius of where he lives, to the extent that it is possible.
Locally grown foods are available at natural food stores, farmers’ markets, community-supported agricultural enterprises and farm stands, and while the proprietors of these and similar establishments offer the goods differently, they chorus, “The localvore movement is skyrocketing!”
Until the 20th century, “eating local” was by necessity the way of life. Today, the same practice requires planning, dedication and, in some cases, more money; it is a culmination of many deliberate choices. “Localvore Challenges,” which urge consumers to buy only local foods for limited amounts of time as a gentle re-introduction to the concept, have sprung up across Vermont to help people interested in the benefits of those choices follow through.
According to well-sourced data published by Vermont’s Mad River Valley Localvore Project, these benefits are many. To enjoy green peas from a nearby farm flies in the face of the statistic that, “on the average, foods travel 1,500 miles before arriving on your table,” which explains the fact that “the average meal uses 17 times more petroleum products” than the same meal produced locally. If you visit the supermarket to buy frozen or canned peas that include a flavored sauce, add this statistic: “70 percent of processed foods in U.S. grocery stores contain bioengineered ingredients.”
The localvore movement is about more — much more — than the important health and taste benefits of fresh produce. The bottom line is, as always, economic. The Mad River Valley Localvore Project notes that “91 percent of each dollar spent in a traditional food market goes to suppliers, processors, middlemen and marketers and only 9 cents goes to the farmer, while farm markets enable farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of every dollar.”
Let’s make this more personal: “If Vermont substituted local products for only 10 percent of the food we import, it would result in $376 million in new economic output, including $69 million in personal earnings from 3,616 jobs,” thus benefiting all Vermonters.
Eating locally is by definition all about community, and the farmers that are members of the aptly named Community-Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program (in cooperation with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture) consider themselves partners with consumers. In this system, the producers sell “shares” in their upcoming harvest to consumers in the spring long before the produce is ready. This up-front money is available at the crucial time of year to buy the supplies (including seeds, fertilizer and fuel), needed to grow the crops. As the harvests come in throughout the summer, “members” who have “pre-bought” items enjoy the fresh produce. In CSA terminology, an “item” is a certain amount of a certain vegetable, such as four ears of corn, a bunch of carrots, or a bag of lettuce. Shares are available in single-, family- or senior-sized increments and delivery to predetermined checkpoints may be arranged for set days.
Some farms also offer a winter CSA. The Vermont Department of Agriculture lists 16 CSAs in Chittenden County.
The Boutin Family Farm, on South Road in Williston, is managed by family members Kevin and Lisa Boutin. Of the 120 acres, 40 are tillable, and are referred to by Lisa Boutin as “a huge backyard garden” providing a plethora of items for about 50 members during a 12-week share season. The Boutins designed a creative method of marketing, offering a coupon book that allows consignees to “purchase” vegetables and fruits harvested each day.
“We make it very convenient,” Lisa Boutin said.
The summer produce, which is certified naturally grown, ranges from asparagus to zucchini and from blackberries to strawberries and is available at the farm stand, through a “U-Pick” operation on the farm, and at local farmers’ markets.
Joe and Anne Tisbert own the 300-acre Valley Dream Farm, which sits on the town line dividing Underhill and Cambridge. The farm supplies an estimated 200 members during a 24-month share season.
Valley Dream is among the more than 525 farms certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, or NOFA-VT. Anne Tisbert says this certification, which involves meticulous recordkeeping and on-farm inspections, entitles them to a coveted state and USDA seal. NOFA also manages Farm Share, a program that allows low-income Vermonters to buy from CSAs.
The nature of agriculture, which can mean unexpected gluts of produce, allows CSAs to “give back to the community,” according to Anne Tisdale.
“We donate thousands of pounds of food to local food shelves and to the Vermont Food Bank,” she said.
CSAs often sell at farmers’ markets, a growing venue benefited by the localvore movement. In 2008, there were 64 farmers’ markets registered by NOFA-VT, up from 19 in 1986. NOFA-VT lists “the total gross sales from the markets that responded in 2008” as more than $5.5 million.
According to the organization, the summer Burlington Farmers’ Market, held weekly in City Hall Park, is among the four largest in the state. The Richmond Farmers’ Market, held weekly on Volunteers Green, is considered more average in size for Vermont. Manager Carol Mader, who works closely with a board of directors, states that there are 25 permanent seasonal vendors, which is capacity for the location, selling primarily agricultural products and prepared foods. There is also a waiting list of “day vendors” on call to take a spot that may be vacant if a seasonal vendor is unable to attend a market.
The Williston Farmers’ Market, after operating on the village green through the summer and into the fall, moves inside the Williston Armory this weekend. The market will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
“The localvore movement is becoming huge and we’re seeing the results of that in the (market) revenues,” Mader reports, noting that revenues have increased 170 percent over the past few years. “We have a strong following of customers over the years. We’ve seen many people who used to buy things for maybe one dinner now trying to buy for the week. We also now have a meat vendor. People are finding that prices are more competitive.”
She cited trucking costs as one reason for the rising supermarket prices.
Natural food stores are another avenue reporting increased sales from the localvore movement. Natural Provisions of Williston, managed by Peter and Allison Lafferty, opened in 2007 as the second location of a popular store in St. Johnsbury. The 10,000-square-foot store and delicatessen on Harvest Lane maintains 20 employees. Peter Lafferty emphasizes that the naturally grown and/or organic foods and products are purchased locally as much as is possible in a full-service grocery that also sells health and beauty products and cleaning supplies.
“The localvore movement is on a huge rise,” he said. “It’s so good for the community as a whole. The number of people who come in here and actually say, ‘Show me what is local’ has been growing a lot over the past two years. People care about supporting the community.”