Foraging for Local

Before federal organic standards, organic food was linked to small farms, animal welfare, and sustainability. However, organic has gone mainstream—Walmart being the largest vendor of organic produce in the world today. Local has replaced organic as the fastest growing segment of the retail food market. A.C. Gallo, the president and COO of Whole Foods, explained that consumers’ interest in local food is relatively new.

“Ten or 15 years ago, the organic label was more important to our customers,” Gallo told The Huffington Post. “But we started to feel, over the last five to seven years, that our customers were more interested in buying produce that’s local.”

Gallo said that Whole Foods is also doing its part to meet that demand. In 2006, the company hired its first two full-time “foragers,” tasked with finding small-scale farms that would be able to sell produce to Whole Foods in the Seattle metro area. In the next six years, Whole Foods hired 18 more foragers to do the same thing in 12 different regions. In 2007, the company set aside $10 million to provide low-interest loans to good farms that needed a large infusion of capital in order to grow produce on the scale required for Whole Foods.

Food Hubs are also helping new farmers break into local food markets. Food hubs such as Stewards of the Land, started in 2005 by Marty and Kris Travis, help transport food from local farms to local area restaurants. These food hubs not only distribute local foods, but help small local farms and farmers succeed. Members of their food hubs include about 40 small family farmers, each of whom pays a small fee to join. In exchange, they get cheaper liability insurance, and access to a much larger pool of clients, and training.