Support the community: buy local August 2012
By Carley Dangona
Reminder publications photos by Carley Dangona and Elizabeth O'Donoghue
A resurgence of awareness about the importance of supporting local farmers, growers and producers, is emerging among Western Massachusetts consumers as their knowledge of environmental impact, economics and personal health expands.
The evidence of this consideration is in the vast amount of patrons purchasing native goods from farmers' markets, country stores, fruit stands and farms. Consumers of today are concerned about their carbon footprint, the regional economy and their own well-being.
"The best way people can help the economy is to buy local," Lenita Bober, owner of Blossoming Acres in Southwick and point person for the Longmeadow Farmers' Market, said.
Bober explained the appeal of homegrown produce, "We grow for retail for taste. Everything is picked the day before or the Thursday morning of the market. And, it's picked ripe, not green."
Tom Janas, owner of Berry Knoll Gardens in Ludlow and Bober's partner at the Longmeadow Farmers' Market, said, "Our strongest asset is our attention to detail."
Bober said, "We have a great variety of stuff because we grow so much," Generally, there's something new every week [at the market]."
The support for farmers and growers like Bober and Janas goes beyond the local farmers' market.
"We sell as much locally produced [food products] as we can buy," Karen Randall, owner of Randall's Farm & Greenhouse said. "We're fortunate to live in an area where we can buy from so many local farms. We make a big effort to have the best possible local produce all the time."
When asked about the recent increase in awareness, Randall stated, "For us [Randall's], with our origin as a food stand, it was always about local, native, or Massachusetts grown those are the terms I grew up with. We were always about local."
Randall explained the vast difference between the quality of fresh-picked local produce versus produce that is picked green and ripens during transport to its destination.
"Local produce makes a short trip from the field to the farm stand," Randall said. "The taste is better, fresher, fuller different. It's all about the taste."
Randall also noted some reasons consumers support native product.
"Some are about price," she said. "Others like that it's local because they know the origin of the product and how it's produced. We are selling more organic product than in the past."
When asked why she thought people purchase area goods, Pauline Lannon, president of Atkins Farms Country Market, said, "They trust their local farmers and if they have a question, they can call us and get a person to give them the information."
Lannon continued, "The product comes from the farm to them [the consumers]. With the big stores, there is more handling."
Jennifer Adams, director of Marketing and Promotions for Atkins, echoed that sentiment, "You can drive by and see the farmer unloading corn every day."
Another benefit of working directly with neighboring farmers,is price.
"Because of our relationship with farmers, we can offer better prices," Adams said.
The staff at Atkins makes an effort to clearly mark each product native to the region, so customers know where in their community products are come from. Rebecca Pease, specialty food buyer at Atkins, believes this knowledge helps shoppers choose their purchases.
"People love to know that a product is local," Pease said. "We try to buy as much local as we can. Approximately, 40 percent of our products are New England based."
Pease, who grew up at Atkins, explained that Atkins takes the concept a step further.
"We have local products and local people employed," Pease said. "My mom worked here and I worked here for my first job at 14. We're consistent with our employees and product."
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is one of the largest advocates in Massachusetts for buying locally made goods. There slogan, "Be a local hero by locally grown."
Philip Korman, executive director of CISA, cited its mission statement: "CISA strengthens local agriculture by building connections between farmers and the community."
Korman continued, "This is a wonderful journey to take to get more connected to farmers and community. The local economy is more resilient despite the overall state of the [federal] economy because of our local agriculture. Overall, it keeps farms thriving; it keeps distributors thriving; and it keeps restaurants thriving."
Again, the quality of product from here versus the product that travels great distances was mentioned.
"It was the way food was meant to be," Korman said. "There's so many reasons to buy local. Food, fiber, flowers all of these things are provided right here. By eliminating travel mileage, we are investing in the future and by cutting down the energy use."
Even some of the larger stores, like Big Y, are investing in home.
"We've been working with local farmers for years," Claire D'Amour-Daley, vice president of Corporate Communications for Big Y, said. "Why? Because it's the right thing to do. We're a local company, we live here it all ties together. We've been a CISA sponsor since day one."
Big Y supplies all three of their store formats with local product from the warehouse in Springfield. D"Amour-Daley directly addressed the issue of handling and maintaining quality.
"The product is shipped out the day it's received to the warehouse," D'Amour-Daley explained. "They're [the warehouse employees] working all night long. We handle things as little as possible. In addition to the speed of handling the item, we have several refrigeration options to keep the product fresh."
She added, "Many farmers still deliver directly to some of the stores. Last year, Big Y purchased 4,625 million pounds of local produce from the area."
D'Amour-Daley touted, "We're proud of our local initiatives and will continue to expand them."
My question for you: Are you a local hero? If not, why? The next time you are grocery shopping buy two pieces of your favorite fruit, one from the area and the other from a remote location; now, sample each. I think you'll find you're answer to the question will always be "yes."
For more information visit www.buylocalfood.org , www.blossomingacres.com , www.ranfarm.com , www.atkinsfarms.com, www.mass.gov/agr/markets/farmersmarkets.