What is it with local foods?

My wife and I made the decision about a year ago that the best gift we could give our two young sons would be for her to leave her job at Virginia Tech and stay home with the boys.  This decision has had an impact on our bottom line.  We like great food, but we are on a budget.  This puts our consumption strategy somewhere between the admonishment of Remy’s father in the movie Ratatouille (“Food is fuel. You get picky about what you put in the tank, your engine is gonna die.”) and the gourmet meals we see on television and in the cooking magazines my wife enjoys reading.

We shop for groceries at Food Lion and Wal-Mart, and do so with confidence.  We trust the food supply and the controls in place to protect consumers.  We are not afraid of GMOs.  The conventional farmers we know are friends and family members who have chosen to farm and their efficient production allow us to have affordable, nutritious food.

So what is it with local foods, anyway?  I think I know.  We spent a long weekend in Asheville, NC recently.  While there, we visited a small creamery and a family farm, both of which retail direct from their farms, through local farmers markets, and through select restaurants.  The cheese was great, and the steak was delicious.  The food cost noticeably more than the equivalent would have in the grocery store.  So why was it such a great experience?

As I think back to those visits in Asheville, and to VALOR seminar V, what sticks out the most was the interactions with the producers.  I am one of the vast majority of Americans who live in a town or city.  I enjoy seeing where my food was grown and visiting with the people responsible for raising or making it.  Direct marketing of local foods allows me to do so.  For me, local foods are about connection and experience.  One of the many things I’ve had reinforced during VALOR is that one size rarely fits all.  There is room for a thriving local foods economy.  There is need for the economy of scale farmers across the country have mastered.  Let’s figure out how to do both well.

Now, off to the grocery store…

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