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Local Farming: Should It Be Supported By Food Retailers?

This week, I spent a couple of hours working at my CSA farm. I harvested two rows of fingerling potatoes before the thunderstorms set in and I was shooed out of the field by the farmer, Mary LaFrance. I am a member of Lakeplain Prairie Organic Farm; the only certified organic CSA in Wayne County, Michigan. For those of you who aren’t familiar with CSA farms, they offer a subscription based service for fresh, excellent tasting, local and organic food. Subscribers to this service pay a seasonal fee and agree to work a specified number of hours over the course of the growing season.

As a CSA member you develop a relationship with a local farmer, receive a weekly share of fresh-picked fantastic tasting local food, and cultivate friendships in your local community. You also develop a strong sense of satisfaction that you know where your food was grown, when it was harvested and the distance it traveled to your plate.

At first glance, you may reckon food retailers are in direct conflict with CSA Farms. Admittedly, if I am getting all my fruits, vegetables and flowers from my CSA membership I am no longer buying them from my local grocer. If that’s the case, why would my local grocer want to promote community supported agriculture? If you subscribe to the theory of economic abundance, there are enough resources for everyone. With a bit of cooperative support and some creative marketing, food retailers and CSA Farms can foster economic abundance in your local community.

Cross Marketing with your local CSA

CSA Farms often supplement their earnings by reserving a part of the farm for direct sales to local retailers. By taking advantage of this freshly picked locally grown organic produce, these stores are not only providing a better product for their customers, but supporting their local farmers. Don’t keep this locally grown produce a secret:

Mark your locally grown produce with the farmers name, location and photo, if available.
Invite the local farmers into your store for a “Meet the Farmers” day.
Give out recipes promoting seasonal produce and provide information about the farm where it was grown and harvested.

Letting your customers know you support local farmers generates community goodwill and keeps dollars flowing among friends and neighbors. Produce not native to your growing region will also still be in demand and should be supplied by your retail store. And remember, your local farmers need to shop, too! Support them and they will in turn support your business.

Co-Sponsor Educational Events

Many CSA Farms offer classes in canning, freezing and preserving fruits and vegetables. Co-sponsoring a CSA educational event is a fantastic way to show your support for the community while reminding residents that you can provide all of their shopping needs not available through their CSA. The strawberry preserves members are learning to make still require sugar, fruit pectin and canning jars! Promoting the event with signage at your retail store further shows your support for the community and your local food network.

Children: Your Next Generation of Local Food Consumers

My CSA Farm, Lakeplain Prairie, has a special garden area just for children. Not only do CSA member parents have an opportunity to complete their service requirement uninterrupted, children have an opportunity to learn about gardening. Two things children like is to play in the dirt and to be active. Letting them plant, care for and harvest their own small garden accomplishes both. The underlying benefit to parents and food retailers is that they are learning. Children will experience a sense of pride and enjoyment when growing and cultivating their own fruits, vegetables and flowers. They also tend to be more willing to taste produce they grew on their own, leading to healthy eating and less risk of obesity. And remember, today’s small farmer is tomorrow’s busy consumer.

As a food retailer, supporting your local CSA farms makes excellent business sense. Cross marketing, educational programs and engaging children are all ways to increase retail sales. Long term benefits to your retail business will come through fostering community goodwill, consumer dietary health and a strong local economy.

Joan Tobin is owner of Eat Local Food LLC, a marketing and promotional merchandise firm that specializes in local, organic, natural food promotions for food retailers, farmers markets and restaurants. At Eat Local Food, “It’s art, it’s advertising, it’s a values statement all in one colorful image”. eatlocalfood.com/ eatlocalfood.com/

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