U.S. grocery retailers are looking to Sam Mogannam, owner of Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District, to stay up to speed on the trend toward a smaller-scale, personal, community-oriented food experience. Bi-Rite seems to be ahead of the curve on exceeding not only consumer demand for more locally produced, sustainable, fresh food, but consumers’ desires to learn about where that food comes from and how it is produced. As opposed to the specialty food store business-as-usual of keeping successful trade practices under wraps, Mogannam has the surprising habit of welcoming competitors into the store, spreading the market’s influence beyond just the foodie-centric Bay Area.
As San Francisco Magazine notes, “Anyone hoping to do well in the grocery business would be advised to take notice of Mogannam’s actions during his ten-minute morning tour of his store…That relentless editing and a razor-sharp focus on hospitality account for much of Bi-Rite’s extraordinary success—making it one of the most-watched markets in the country.”
Ever since Mogannam took the reins 14 years ago from his father and uncle, sales have grown by $1 million every year. No wonder other retailers want to visit and see what all the fuss is about, especially in an economic time when it isn’t rare to hear about small businesses that are losing that kind of cash per year. Overall, Bi-Rite’s sales have increased exponentially from $1.25 million in 1998 to $13.8 million in 2010.
Founded by Karl and Cara Rosaen, Real Time Farms (RTF) is a new crowd-sourcing online food guide that is every foodie’s dream, acting as a restaurant guide, local farm source map, and food artisan storytelling hub all wrapped up into one. As their website boasts, “As crazy as it sounds, our vision is to collectively document the whole food system. We are powered by the people!” You can search for farms, food artisans and farmers markets in your area by simply typing in your zip code.
A new report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled The Rehab Archipelago: Forced Labor and Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam, indicates that drug addicts being detained in government-run “rehabilitation” centers often double as forced-labor camps where detainees process cashew nuts and manufacture other exports in southern Vietnam under harsh conditions that sometimes involve physical violence and torture.
With the burgeoning demand for fresh, local produce and small food producers facing the common challenge of access to marketplaces, the new FreshList app is a welcome tool for both customer and vendor. The app uses the Twilio API (application programming interface) for text messaging which permits people to purchase and sell produce in real time. This could mean big changes in sales for those food businesses that either don’t have the staff, resources or time to build websites with constantly updated inventory or a means of online sales.
There’s a lot of hubbub these days about developing healthy, thriving local food systems, but who is actually financing this lofty endeavor? Just this past week, one group called Transition Colorado put their money where their mouth is by launching Localization Partners LLC, a $1.5 million fund established to expand local farming and food businesses. Boulder-based LP is a for-profit initiative of Transition Colorado, a non-profit whose mission is to achieve relocalization at the community level by engaging people to become more self-sufficient and resilient to the impacts of climate change and peak oil.
The enterprises which the fund will support include local food distribution systems, food producers who utilize local ingredients and sustainable farms. Via this Slow Money approach, the Boulder County foodshed will be used as a model for other communities and regions to imitate when scaling up and advancing their own local food economies.
An exciting new national service program called FoodCorps launched this month with the goal of addressing healthy food access for children in low-income communities by recruiting young inspired leaders to commit to a year of public service. These service members have been given marching orders to create and maintain school gardens, provide hands-on nutrition education and offer healthy, fresh, local food in public school cafeterias. Ultimately, FoodCorps hopes to make farm-to-school and school garden programs the norm in an effort to counteract the escalation of diet-related diseases that are plaguing our nation’s youth.
If you’ve noticed more farmers markets around in recent years, you aren’t imagining things — local farmers markets in the U.S. doubled from 2,863 in 2000 to 6,132 in 2010 and over 100,000 farmers are selling their products to customers directly. So says an eye-opening report released this month by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) entitled Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems. The report shows that moderate assistance from the federal government would go a long way in helping grow and maintain vibrant, economically stable local and regional food systems.
This proliferation was not bolstered by federal spending. In fact, the report states quite the opposite, that USDA invested $13.7 billion on commodity, crop insurance and supplemental disaster assistance payments that aided big industrial farms. When it came to local and regional food system farmers, however, they spent less than $100 million.
The local food movement has come a long way from what started out as a fringe fraction of the population to grabbing the attention of big box grocery retailers and industrial food giants. The original goals of proponents of the “locavore diet” focused on supporting smaller local farms (and thus the local economy), protecting the environment by decreasing food-miles traveled and using less synthetic chemicals.
Big food companies and major grocery store chains alike have caught on, realizing they can make big bucks making customers feel good about their impact on the planet, their economy and themselves. Thus, they are shifting produce purchasing decisions toward local. Most chains cite consumer demand, reduction of spoilage, and savings made on fuel and freight costs as their main incentives.
Whether their intentions are to do good, make profits, or both, the issue at hand is that each company has come up with different definitions of just what the term local means.
As the American tobacco industry has fallen with the overwhelming evidence of smoking’s negative health implications, the rise in international tobacco production competition, the mounting social taboo of smoking, as well a shift away from the government’s Depression-era tobacco quota system of subsidies, tobacco farmers have had to come up with new ways to earn a living. This situation has, ironically, constructively contributed to the sustainable agriculture movement, causing some tobacco farmers to convert their land and livelihoods into more sustainable enterprises that move away from growing tobacco.
China recently set up a strategic pork reserve (really!) to feed the middle class’ growing hunger for meat and to prevent the kind of crisis in pork supply that occurred after the outbreak of porcine blue-ear pig disease (PRRS) back in 2008. The outbreak required Chinese pig farmers to slaughter millions of pigs and the ensuing downturn in the nation’s supply caused pork prices to skyrocket.
This spurred the Chinese government into action to try and gain more command over the means of pork production because as Greg Lindsay of Fast Company points out, “Since Deng Xiaoping, China’s leaders have been obsessed with ‘food security’ the same way America’s are haunted by not having enough oil.” In fact, China already has plans to open up and utilize part of their 200,000 metric ton pork reserve supply, as pork prices have shot up 38 percent in China’s large cities in 2011. With pork being half the meat China consumes and with demand and prices rising, China is taking their previous swine shortage debacle seriously.
The United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have decided to collaborate in order to enact new federal legislation that will affect the 280 million egg-laying hens that produce eggs in the United States. This would be the first federal legislation of its kind to address the treatment of animals on farms.
Bob Krouse, a farmer in Indiana and chairman of UEP, commented in a press statement, “America’s egg producers have continually worked to improve animal welfare, and we strongly believe our commitment to a national standard for hen welfare is in the best interest of our animals, customers and consumers. We are committed to working together for the good of the hens in our care and believe a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers.”
The legislation proposes the following nationwide changes in egg production:
Many consumers these days are in search of a way to not only support, but become more personally connected to a sustainable supply chain which provides them with products that do good. The Hoop Fund, recent winner of Hub Bay Area’s Venture funding, was formed with this type of conscious consumer in mind.
Many folks itching for an alternative vacation this summer are considering staying on a farm. Farm Stay U.S., the best resource for the curious first-time farm vacationer, was founded by Scottie and Greg Jones of Leaping Lamb Farm with the idea that, “We believe the majority of Americans are hugely disconnected from their food and the land. Farm stays provide an opportunity to put down the cell phone and connect with all a rural life has to offer.”
According to Farm Stay U.S., Pennsylvania, California and Vermont take the lead for the most farm and ranch stay listings, with Wyoming, Virginia, North Carolina, Montana, Colorado, Oregon also making the top ten. You can easily search their find a farm section for a particular city or state.
Rolling up to the Earthships world headquarters in Taos, New Mexico is like stumbling upon an alien planet – a striking, stark desert backdrop with funky colorful bounds dotting the landscape– which as you get closer you soon realize are actual people’s houses.
An Earthship is a thermal mass, passive solar home that allows one to live completely off the grid using a combination of different water and energy recycling, saving and storing systems. If you like the idea of eradicating your utility bills, not to mention feeling good about living in the most energy-efficient, self-sustaining way possible, then look no further.
This past week I had the privilege of attending the American Society for Quality (ASQ) inaugural Pathways to Corporate Social Responsibility Conference in San Francisco, where the quality side of business broke bread with corporate social responsibility (CSR) gurus to expound upon their synergies and determine how to move forward in unison.