When people think of the “Local Food Movement” and how it gets to our kitchen table, some probably envision a tatted-up hipster, with a perfectly coiffed mustache and parted hair, raving about a thousand different ways to use quinoa in your diet. I live in Huntington Beach, California, otherwise known as “Surf City USA.” Each Tuesday the city of Huntington Beach closes down part of Main Street, an area of the city right by the beach, which allows for food vendors and food manufacturers to sell their locally made products. A farmers’ market of sorts, but you can buy other things, too (e.g. paintings, clothing, hipster moustache wax, etc.). However, for the purpose of this story I’m only focusing on the food manufacturers and growers. Although I truly love this movement because it promotes sustainability and local economic growth, as in any food business we run into obstacles along the way. Here are some examples of what I mean:
Understanding the Difference Between Local and Domestic
Consider this a friendly PSA of sorts: When it comes to food, the terms “Local” and “Domestic” have two different meanings. The term “Domestic” indicates the country, or that a product was grown and produced here in the USA. As for the term “Local,” although there is no generally accepted definition for it, the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (i.e. 2008 Farm Act) defines it as, “locally produced agricultural food product, [that] is less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced.”
Hurdles and Barriers of Dealing With Small Local Growers
As I stated earlier, I love this movement and I will always support it. It truly shows that we, as a society, can pull our agricultural resources together, and create a sustainable source of food for our communities. I mean, how awesome is that? However, the learning curve is steep. As a QA professional, I’ve learned that using a local manufacturer can become burdensome sometimes. Why? Due to their small size and limited budgets, some local growers can’t afford to hire an experienced QA Manager. This can create a gap in understanding all food safety requirements (at the local grower’s site), and documentation needed to meet all FDA, USDA, and customer regulations. To give you an example, I once dealt with a local grower who didn’t understand why he had to indicate on his peanut bag label that the product was an ALLERGEN even if cooked. I shook my head in disbelief. Again, all of this can be easily prevented by education, and exposure to all FDA/USDA regulations.
Small Local Growers and Meeting Large Demands
Consistency in quality. If you are a QA Manager, or were one at some point, you probably had to deal with this issue from time to time when working with some local growers. Even though the number of farmers’ markets rose from 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009 (USDA Local Food Systems) many times due to their small size, local growers might experience “frequent issues with timely deliveries, out-of season availability, and larger than normal order values.”
Conclusion: The Positives Outweigh the Negatives
They’re not a big farmer/producer, they sometimes can’t meet large demands, and they sometimes don’t know all of the regulations. But, (and it’s a big BUT) let me ask you this: Have you ever tasted a fruit that was locally grown? To me, they are juicier than their conventional counterparts, and the flavor is so intense it brings me back to my childhood in Europe where I sat in my grandmas kitchen eating fresh peaches from her garden. Have you ever connected with the man or woman who helped nurture and harvest these delicious foods? It’s amazing to talk with someone whose own hands have helped create the food you’re going to eat that day. It personally gives me a sense of community. I am totally quoting The Lion King here, but it truly is “the circle of life.”
Editor's Note: No lions, animated or otherwise, were harmed in the posting of this blog. However, some local blueberries were eaten and enjoyed immensely.