Farm Horizons, October 2014

From farm to table: Area farmers work to supply an increasing demand for locally grown food

By Kristen Miller

Today, there is a growing trend in consumers wanting more and more foods grown by local farmers.

For the consumer, the purpose may be helping to build a strong economy by supporting local agriculture, knowing where the food comes from and farming practices used, or reducing the number of transportation miles and insuring they are getting the freshest products.

As the trend grows, so does the demand for farmers to provide produce to sell, either through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, local food co-ops, or farmers markets.

“We feel the best food for our community is grown in our community,” said Connie Carlson, president of the Local Roots Food Co-op in Buffalo.

“People, more and more, want to know who’s growing the food and how it’s grown,” Carlson said.

The co-op was launched in June 2011, and currently has 200 members.

Six months ago, an online marketplace opened to the public as a way of strengthening the connection between the producer and the consumer, Carlson explained.

As a co-op, it’s owned by a community of members.

If you are a member, you are part owner, Carlson noted.

The intent is similar to a CSA, though there is more than one producer supplying the market.

CSA allows city residents to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. When someone becomes a member of a CSA, he or she is purchasing a “share” of vegetables from a regional farmer.

A co-op is also different from a farmers market in that customers order what they want from the producer and pick up the product at a designated area or distribution center.

Inspected by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Local Roots Food Co-op is considered a food broker. “This allows us to be the middle person,” Carlson said.

Because it has a diverse consumer base, Local Roots Co-op allows any kind of food, whether it be organic or conventional.

“We allow our customers to decide how they want to eat,” said Lyla Brown, market manager and board member of Local Roots Food Co-op.

One doesn’t have to be a member in order to shop in the online marketplace, however.

Consumers can go online to www.localfoodmarketplace.com and, under the Shop tab, be connected to the Online Marketplace.

From noon Fridays to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, shoppers can select from a wide range of products such as baked goods, dairy, vegetables, Fair Trade coffee, household and personal items, and much more.

After selecting an item, shoppers receive a description of the product, the cost, and a link to learn more about the specific farm where it was produced.

Then, the producer gets the order and delivers the products to the Buffalo Community Center for pick-up on distribution night, – Thursdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The goal is to eventually open a storefront, Carlson said.

That’s why the memberships are important.

The one-time $100-membership fee goes right back into the co-op, Carlson said.

Members receive discounts, credits at the store, and can participate in special events.

Dan Moe, owner of The Farm, a certified organic farm located north of Dassel on Highway 15, offers weekly CSA shares, fresh produce at farmers markets, and also services local restaurants and co-ops, including Dan and Becky’s Market in Cokato, and Local Roots Food Co-op in Buffalo.

Moe believes that the only thing Americans fear is inconvenience, and that if there were ever a petroleum crisis, people wouldn’t know where to get their daily supply of food.

What CSAs and local food co-ops are trying to do is build that infrastructure so people have an alternative to the “grocery store” mentality.

“My goal as a producer is to get the most nutritious quality food I can to the end user,” Moe said.

He is doing his best to extend the growing season by using high tunnels or hoophouses, which are unheated greenhouses.

“I’m blessed to participate with Local Roots,” Moe said. “I need a co-op I can depend on that’s close.” Transportation is a wasteful use of time for a producer who could otherwise be in the fields.

Products from the farm sold at the co-op don’t need to be licensed. There are guidelines, however, for those who prepare food to sell, such as canned products like salsa and soup.

As a food broker, no money can be exchanged at the co-op. All purchases have to take place online, Brown explained.

Producers can decide how frequently or what products they want to sell on the market. Though the products vary, the Local Roots Co-op has 12 to 15 different producers participating each week.

As with many farmers, this year’s growing season has been more challenging for Moe. That makes it difficult for him to utilize the online marketplace as much as he would like. First, he must fulfill his CSA orders and provide products to his other vendors.

“But what I have done, has worked,” Moe commented. “It’s an excellent program.”

For more information on Local Roots Co-op, visit http://localrootsfood.coop. To search for local foods and CSAs, check out the Minnesota Grown website at www.minnesotagrown.com.

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