Interest in local foods is starting to spread faster than mint in a garden. Despite the growing demand, the folks who make and sell local foods are often in a pickle: how can they produce and deliver fresh local foods AND pay themselves and their staff a living wage while keeping their prices affordable?
As I tasted a delicious local pickle and other wonderful products at the Sustainable Business Network’s Buy Local Workshop and Mini Trade Show for Restaurants and Chefs at the Seaport World Trade Center yesterday, I learned more about some of the challenges that the people who produce, cook and sell local foods are facing.
Grillo’s Pickles are the perfect marriage of sour and salty. Travis Grillo started his company two years ago and produces his pickles at Katsiroubas Bros. in Newmarket Square. While he runs a delightful pickle cart on Boston Common and still delivers pickles to his small accounts personally, he also sells to Whole Foods. While others would love to have this level of success, Grillo told me that he has unutilized production capacity. “People love the product,” he said, “but I need to expand my distribution.”
Despite the growing crowds at farmers markets, selling at the markets is not always profitable. Ed Lawton of the Foxbory Cheese Co. just started selling his fromage blanc and asiago at 15 local farmers markets this year. His fromage blanc is mild and pleasingly tangy. Foxboro Cheese is part of Lawtons Family Farms, a dairy that sells raw milk and grass fed beef and veal as well as the cheese. So far, Lawton says, his experiences at the markets have been mixed. “Some of the markets attract a lot of tourists who aren’t going to buy cheeses or meat they have to cook,” he said. Learning which markets work for your business takes time and money that some farmers just don’t have.
Fortunately, there’s also a loose network of non-profits, government agencies, and businesses helping local food businesses market their foods. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), based in western Massachusetts, launched their “Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown” campaign in 1999. “It’s the longest running ‘buy local’ program in the country,” CISA Local Hero Member Services Coordinator Devon Whitney-Deal told me. In a recent CISA survey, 69% of participating farms reported that their produce sales had increased.
In eastern Massachusetts, the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston (SBN) , the sponsor of yesterday’s event, has a Local Food Committee that’s doing a great job promoting local foods by organizing events and programs that connect local eaters, restaurants, producers and distributors. On Saturday, October 2, 2010, 11am-5pm, they’re producing the first Boston Local Food Festival at the Boston Waterfront on Fort Port Channel. If the event attracts the hoped-for crowds, the increased support for local foods could help producers sell pickles rather than be in one.