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Online marketplace set to launch local food vendors into the mainstream

Fulfilling orders at Bread SRSLY.

When Sadie Scheffer decided to start her own vegan, gluten-free baking company, the logistics were not her top priority. Like many small food companies without retail spaces, she started Bread SRSLY by delivering her breads and muffins on a bike, using a makeshift online ordering system through email and Etsy, and taking cash on delivery. Scheffer’s system worked when she was fielding a few orders at a time, but when it came time to scale up, it was less than ideal.

Enter Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based startup that provides online tools for small and sustainable food producers. Now Scheffer’s orders come through the Good Eggs online platform, and on top of taking orders from house to house, she now also drops off a lot of product at once at community pickup spots arranged by the company. She sells three times as many loaves of bread as she did before Good Eggs. Scheffer admits that she’s had trouble keeping up with orders, but adds: “That's the fun part, the scary part, and the only way I’m going to grow.”

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Mapping the government’s local food work as a way to keep it alive

Click to explore the map of the USDA's efforts to boost local food systems.

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released what it’s calling the “2.0 version” of its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass. For those not in the know, the Compass is a map of all of the local food projects -- including farmers markets, food hubs, infrastructure, and producers -- the USDA funds.

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF) initiative itself is the brainchild of USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan -- possibly the highest ranking supporter of sustainable agriculture we’ve ever had at USDA -- as a way to highlight efforts to aid local foods.

I’m a big fan of mapping as a visualization tool and the Compass certainly provides lots of data. That said, it’s not really much of a consumer-focused tool compared with private efforts like RealTimeFarms.com, which not only maps farmers markets and farms, but also shows the links between particular restaurants and their local artisanal and farm suppliers.

Read more: Food, Locavore

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Small-scale grains: Another piece of the locavore puzzle

Carolina Gold Rice from Anson Mills.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) households know the cries.

“So many sweet potatoes!”

“Tomatillos again?”

But “Oh, man -- more whole wheat flour!”? Not so much. Yet that may be coming.

On the East Coast, Virginia’s Moutoux Orchards is growing and milling wheat and barley to nestle beside produce, dairy, eggs, and meat in its Full Diet CSA. To the west, Windborne Farm of northern California offers a grain CSA featuring not just wheat and barley, but also rare grains like teff and millet raised using a pair of draft horses.

All over the country, small grain farmers like these may soon place the last piece in the local-foods puzzle.

Read more: Food, Locavore

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Community-supported agriculture: Grist readers stand up for local food

Earlier this week, we ran an interview with Pierre Desrochers, co-author (with his wife Hiroko Shimizu) of The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet, in which he shared a range of grievances with the local food movement. As you may imagine, there was an outpouring of response by a range of people who disagree with Desrochers. And they made a lot of great points, so we thought we'd highlight some of the better ones here (some are excerpts of longer posts). See the original article to read all 100+ comments in their entirety.

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Local haterade: Authors say locavores do more harm than good

Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu.

Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu say they know what’s wrong with the food system: local food purists. In their new book, The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet, the husband-and-wife team (a University of Toronto geography professor and an economist) argue that the excitement over this movement is misguided to the point of having “utterly disastrous” effects. “If widely adopted,” they write, “either voluntarily or through political mandates, locavorism can only result in higher costs and increased poverty, greater food insecurity, less food safety and much more significant environmental damage than is presently the case” [emphasis theirs].

Desrochers and Shimizu are not the first vocal critics of the local food movement. James McWilliams is well known for his early contrarian views on local food (and a resulting book about it), as is Stephen Budiansky, whose 2010 New York Times article prompted an in-depth debate here at Grist. Like these folks -- and a whole array of others -- the authors of Locavore’s Dilemma argue mainly that food miles are a misleading and often incorrect gauge of the sustainability of one’s food.

We don’t entirely disagree. A dogmatic approach is rarely a good idea, and questions about where food should be grown and why are indeed complex. But does that mean things are great the way they are?

Most of us eat local food for a combination of reasons -- from taste, to personal health, to food-chain transparency, to concern for workers, to a desire to see a stop to industrial farming practices that damage soil health and biodiversity, to an interest in keeping small farmers in business. And, realistically, most of us compromise for reasons of cost or convenience. Yes, there are Portlandia-level locavores out there who take it a little too seriously, but the vast majority of us see local food as one piece of a much larger shift. Maybe it is unrealistic to believe small, local producers can literally feed the world -- but does that mean we shouldn’t support their efforts at all?

I sat down with Desrochers when he was in town last week to see if there was something to the anti-locavore argument. As you might guess, there's a lot he and I don't agree on. But at Grist we try, when we can, to challenge our views.

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Pushing for local food in the farm bill: An interview with Chellie Pingree

Rep. Chellie Pingree speaks with a young farmer.

Does local and organic food matter more to people in Maine than it does to other Americans? It's possible, but Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) insists that's not why she introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, a small but encouraging set of legislative reforms meant to accompany this year's farm bill.

And while the "marker bill" has yet to be embraced entirely, some parts of it have clearly influenced the Senate's draft of the larger farm bill, which is said to be about to hit the Senate floor this week. Most sustainable food advocates have seen it as a welcome push for small-scale agriculture, after decades of federal support for industrial farming.

We spoke with Pingree recently about bill, the work behind it, and her motivation to get a farm bill passed before the last one runs out in September.

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With the ‘McItaly,’ did McDonald’s truly go local?

One of two recent McItaly burgers, made with some certified Italian ingredients.

Ever since McDonald’s introduced a pair of Slow Food-inspired McItaly burgers last fall, the company has caused quite a stir on the boot-shaped peninsula. The international chain collaborated with Gualtiero Marchesi, one of Italy's most renowned chefs -- and the only Italian chef to date to receive three Michelin stars -- to create the sandwiches. In the process it has also raised big questions about whether a fast food chain can ever truly adopt a Slow Food approach.

Although McDonald’s maintains a fairly consistent core menu around the world, it’s not uncommon for the fast food chain to tailor its restaurants regionally. In Japan, the chain serves ramen noodles, for instance, while the Indonesian menu offers the “McSatay,” and the Indian menu includes something called a "Veggie McMuffin." Even proud McDonald's France, otherwise known as "MacDo," dishes out a popular petit dejeuner-cum-McBreakfast, composed of buttery croissants and cafe au laits, known as “McCafes.”

In Italy, home of the Slow Food movement, the new sandwiches were named Adagio and Vivace (names that Marchesi says represent an integration of two competing philosophies: slow and fast). They were both made with some local and traditional products, such as eggplant, spinach, and the Italian cheese ricotta salata. Several of the products were DOP certified, an acronym that stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, a widely recognized certification of regional authenticity.

The two sandwiches were a hit. Due to customer demand, they appeared in the stores for nearly two months longer than the initial three-week “limited time offer.” But their popularity among Italians has also reinvigorated the debate among the Slow Food advocates who criticize the fast food industry's wanton neglect for local food communities and traditions.

Read more: Food, Locavore

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Blame it all on my roots: Local food sees a resurgence in the South

A still from the documentary Eating Alabama.

People in Alabama love to gather and, when they do, it’s usually around football or religion and it is always fortified with plenty of food and drink. What would happen, the organizers of a recent event called the Alabama All-Star Food Festival wondered, if you gathered people just for the eating and drinking -- and elevated the discussion of local food in the region while you were at it?

Yes, there was pulled pork and white bread drowning in sauce, but the convention center where the recent All-Star Food Festival was held on account of rain was also full of Gulf shrimp and grits, local gumbo, crab cakes, and of course cold cans from Good People and Back Forty, two of the state’s three microbreweries. The building filled up with farmers, chefs, and food pioneers celebrating a new wave of Alabama food, and wafting over the sterile convention center air was the smell of a place regaining its culinary roots.

As agriculturally rich as Alabama is -- both in soil and tradition -- the state produces less than 5 percent of the food consumed there.

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recipe

Jam session: Go unconventional with vanilla-rhubarb preserves [RECIPE]

Editor's note: This recipe provides a nice break from the standard strawberry-rhubarb combination. It's also a great excuse to try canning. If you're new to making and preserving your own jam, Marisa's blog, Food in Jars, is filled with excellent tips.

Photo by Marisa McClellan.

Vanilla-rhubarb jam
Makes four pints

Ingredients

10 cups of chopped rhubarb (approximately 2 1/2 pounds of stalks)
5 cups sugar
1 cup Earl Grey tea (you could just use water; I happened to have some leftover tea around and it added a nice note to the finished product)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 lemon, juiced
Pinch of salt
1 packet liquid pectin

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New Agtivist: Meg Paska runs Brooklyn’s first urban farm pop-up

Meg Paska with one of her chickens. (All photographs by Valery Rizzo/Nona Brooklyn.)

It’s a dreamy combination of hipster clichés: an urban farming-themed pop-up store made of salvaged materials. In Brooklyn. Maybe that’s why, when Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply opened at the beginning of April, founder Meg Paska thought, “We're going to get mocked.” But mockery did not ensue; instead, an enthusiastic community response showed that Paska was on to something with this small, seasonal shop catering to the needs of people growing food and raising animals in the city.

Paska, who blogs about her own backyard garden, chicken coop, and beehive at Brooklyn Homesteader, started Hayseed’s with the folks who run Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm in Queens. The store will be around until early July in a space Paska rented from the design studio Domestic Construction. We chatted with Paska recently about the project.

Q. How did Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply come together?

A. My business partners and I both kind of have our own urban farm things going on. We were talking one night over beers, and we both admitted that we had thought about opening a farm store. But we were concerned about retail spaces being really expensive. We kept our ears to the ground and hoped that something would present itself, and it did. A bunch of friends of mine had posted a Kickstarter campaign for a design studio a few blocks from my house. They were going to try and save the lot next to their studio and turn it into an urban farm. I asked them how they would feel about hosting a pop-up store, and they were really into the idea. Their studio is in a big mechanic’s garage. They rented out the front space to us and then actually built out a storefront with pallets and old wood. We didn’t spend a single cent on materials; they built it all with salvaged objects.