Local Food Fortifies a Sustainable Economy

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Tompkins Weekly – March 14, 2011.  By Sara Wells.

This latest installment in our Signs of Sustainability series was organized by The Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneur Network (The SEEN), online at www.greenresourcehub.org/SEEN.

A standing room only crowd blew the doors out of La Tourelle’s banquet room for our “Taking Back Our Local Food System” event on February 17th. “That so many people came out for this topic shows that our community will not stand by and watch national brands control our food; we are coming together to fortify our local food system and strengthen our local economy,” said Bob Rossi, Green Resource Hub vice president.

The Ithaca Farmers’ Market is one clear champion in Ithaca’s distinguished local food history. Since the market’s inception, our community has shown an ever growing appetite for local food.  Ithaca has since budded into one of the most successful hosts of authentic farmers’ markets for a city of its size, according to Monika Roth of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Tompkins County, and event moderator.

Every week, Roth said, there are 11 farmers’ markets offering local produce throughout our county, in addition to what’s available from local mainstays GreenStar, Ludgate Farms, and Garden Gate Delivery. Since their emergence over 20 years ago, she added, community supported agriculture (CSA) now serves 2200 customers within a 30 mile radius of Ithaca and produce about $1M in annual sales. Today, she estimates the overall local Ithaca farm & food market at $5M with the growing potential to capture an increasing share of the total $200M food economy.

Before the panel, Jemila Sequeira of CCE-Tompkins spoke about the food security movement and updated the audience on important community action including recent accomplishments of the Whole Community Project, Gardens for Humanity, and the Ithaca Youth Farm.  Jemila is organizing the Community Food Security (CFS) Dialogue titled “Tilling the Soil of Community,” which takes place on March 15th at the Women’s Community Building.

A theme of “rich opportunities” was observed by the speaker panel representing CSAs, local food processors and distributors, local food projects, and chefs committed to local food.

Laughter and delight spread across the room when local producer Chaw Chang described a recent phone call from a potential customer.  A regional school system, he said, asked if he would grow organic carrots for them and described the substantial quantity they were looking for. “The opportunity,” he quipped, “is huge for local farms at a larger scale. It’s way bigger than any of us.” Chang runs the 50-acre Full Plate Farm Collective serving 500 CSA members during the summer (and 300 year-round).

Chang then shared an unlikely sign of sustainability: “Walmart now wants to buy local produce. That seems kind of insane to me, but there seems to be the demand for it.”

Further opportunities were identified.  Erick Smith of Cayuga Pure Organics grows local organic beans on 450 acres, and said “The opportunity is in partnering so commodities can be made into products.”

Sam Izzo of Simply Red Bistro, Ithaca and Sheldrake Point, remarked “I learned how to extend the season… buy in bulk in season and process (freezing, pickling, drying) to use year-round.”

“The potential is for local products,” shared local entrepreneur Gary Redmond, Regional Access, who started his distribution operation connecting farms to consumers in his garage.

Fortifying our local connections – in food and other vital areas of our everyday lives – makes our community more resilient.  The SEEN seeks to support local connections for sustainability in the community through its monthly programs.  Join us on April 11th when we will explore building local connections through a talk by David Makar on relationship-based referral marketing.

The SEEN is a growing community of businesses, organizations, and entrepreneurs working together to achieve ecological, social, and financial success.

Sara Wells is the Marketing Director for The Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneur Network.


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