Americans are gobbling up local food: the number of winter farmers markets alone grew 52% from 2011 to 2012. These markets keep communities healthy and economically strong and save energy by reducing the miles that food has to travel to get to your plate. But local food is about so much more than farmers markets. Here are some more examples of communities that are growing regional agriculture from the ground up:
Food Co-ops: Bozeman Montana’s Community Food Co-op has 22,000 members, an impressive number considering the town has only 38,000 residents. Unlike a grocery store, a food co-op is owned and managed by its members instead of a company and are committed to the local economy. Food Co-ops usually offer sustainable food sourced from area farmers along with typical grocery store features like delis, bakeries, juice and salad bars, and more. Co-ops are similar to vendor-based public markets like DC’s Union Market and Milwaukee’s Public Market. To find a food co-op in your area, visit Local Harvest.
Food Bartering: Trading one kind of food for another is an ancient practice that communities are bringing back across the country. New York-based writer Kate Payne and friends decided to get together in 2010 to form food-swapping outfit BK Swappers and it quickly spread to other cities. Events like these often showcase local food producers, growers and foragers. Find a swap in your area or start your own by visiting the Food Swap Network.
Urban Farms: Today’s urban farms come in all shapes and sizes: Brooklyn’s new Sugar Hill Housing is an apartment complex topped with an urban farm that will provide fresh produce and income for the building’s low-income residents. Boise, Idaho’s Peaceful Belly supplies farmer’s markets and restaurants in the city, and also donates produce to local food banks. Rural areas too benefit from food grown close by like this small community in Maine surrounded by over a hundred acres of farmland worked by the residents. Where is urban agriculture happening in your town? Visit City Farmer Blog to find out.
Localized food-service concessions: Schools, sporting facilities, company cafeterias, and hospitals usually purchase food from large companies that source food from around the globe. But consumer pressure and enlightened leadership is gradually localizing suppliers. The café at Muir Woods National Monument in California uses a supplier that sources much of its food from local farms and bakers. BAMCO, a food service company, is bringing local food to colleges like The University of Pennsylvania and American University. Even the biggest suppliers like Sysco are beginning to highlight local food.
Young farmer training: 40% of farmers in the US are 55 or older. Without support systems for the next generation of farmers, we can’t grow strong, local food systems. EarthDance, a 2011 winner of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Growing Green Awards and the Greenhorns are two organizations providing resources to young farmers. They offer apprenticeship programs on farms around the country, camps for school-aged children, job listings, courses on soil health and record keeping, and much more.
Community supported agriculture (CSA): Skip the trip to the store and get fresh produce delivered right to your doorstep every week from local farms by joining a CSA. CSAs also make healthy, creative gifts for family members. Local Harvest lists over 4000 CSAs in their directory. Many are so popular that they run out of open spots for members early in the season.
Food Hubs: Connecting local food to consumers can be logistically complicated for small farmers. The Food Hub concept allows farmers to band together to share information, resources and distribution channels for more efficient and cost-effective operations. Advances in technology are also making it easier for farmers and consumers to connect with each other through platforms like FarmsReach and FoodHub.
Microbreweries: At no time in American history have there been more small beer companies than there are today. In 1979 there were just 44 microbreweries. In 2013, that number is approaching 3000. Small brewers often prioritize sustainability and have a close relationship with local farmers. Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for instance, tries to source as much of its hops from local farms as possible and gives spent grain and yeast right back to area farms to use as feed for livestock.
American Farmland Trust has even more resources for local food boosters. Read their 7 Ways to Save Farmland and take the Keep it Local Pledge. You can also find farms in your area by visiting Real Time Farms and the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass Map.