As one of the hottest trends projected for 2010, local purchasing is growing at an incredible rate, impacting both the restaurant industry and consumers’ shopping habits. The trend is quite understandable when you consider how many more farmers markets are springing up all over America. !(border left)/files/0004/2004/iStock_000004024312XSmall_medium.jpg!According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. jumped from 2,746 in 1998 to 4,685 in 2008, a 71% increase over a decade.
Chefs are talking advantage of the proximity of those farmers markets. According to a recent survey, 56% of respondents reported serving locally sourced produce in their restaurant, varying between segments.Ã‚Â¹
â€˜Many restaurants are sourcing some of their ingredients locally, and you often see chefs shopping at farmer’s markets to create a host of better-for-you options that today’s diners want,â€™ says Dawn Sweeney, the NRA’s president and chief executive.
The practice also has given rise to a new consumer segment, â€˜locavoresâ€™—consumers who eat and purchase produce grown within a set distance from their area, whether that’s 50, 100 or 150 miles away. The locavore movement encourages consumers to purchase produce at farmers markets rather than at grocery stores because they believe these items taste better and are more nutritious. In addition, they believe it is more environmentally friendly, as grocery stores import from other regions and even countries and so have a higher carbon footprint, using more fuel and energy to get produce from point A to point B.
The trend to buy locally is impacting communities everywhere
The New York Times recently cited Durham, NC, as a city that has taken the locally grown message to heart. The cash crop in the area had been tobacco for many years. Now farmers have converted those fields to grow everything from artichokes to strawberries or to raise livestock. The result is a renaissance of the local restaurant scene as chefs incorporate the local milk, cheese, eggs, poultry, lamb, rabbit and other items into their increasingly adventuresome, yet still comforting menu items.
For those who love to cook at home, community-supported agriculture, or CSA, is another way to take advantage of the range of locally-grown produce without having to grow it yourself. CSA members agree to pay a fee for â€˜sharesâ€™ in the group’s membership. These shares provide farmers with needed money early in the season so they can plant their crops and feed their animals. In exchange, CSA members receive fresh produce, usually on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The variety changes with the seasonal availability of items and some CSAs also offer meat, cheese, bread and eggs for an additional cost. Membership costs vary by location with a $20-25 range being the norm. To find a CSA in your area, check out localharvest.org.
At the recent Southeast Produce Council Conference and Expo attendees learned that in this year’s WIC program 9.4 million women, infants and children can now receive vouchers for fruits and vegetables as part of the U.S. food stamp program. The vouchers can be redeemed in supermarkets and in farmers markets. Adults receive a voucher for $10/month, while kids are eligible for vouchers valued at between $6-$8/month. This is an important development since lower-income families have lower than average consumption of these types of foods than families in other demographics. Top choices among these families include: bananas, apples, carrots, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, oranges, broccoli, grapes, winter squash and onions.
Ã‚Â¹Executive Think Tank Produce Opportunities in Foodservice, July 24, 2009