By Zetty Nemlowill Astoria Co-op Grocery Marketing Director
If you’ve ever had food directly out of a garden, you know the flavor beats any conventional grocery produce, correct? The food we source from nearby farmers is just as good, if not better than food from your own garden. Big grocery stores have noticed that people really like local food. You can’t help but miss the large photographs of “local” farmers in produce departments. I’ve seen “local” peaches from Yakima. This is really different from Astoria Co-op Grocery’s idea of what local food is. So, our competition presents an interesting challenge for the Co-op; defining “local”.
Fresh food from farms in the area that are too small to supply bigger grocery stores gives the Co-op a competitive edge. So it’s very important for us to all understand the “local” difference at the Co-op. I wish I could think of something catchy like the Nike “just do it” catch phrase that would, in an instant, meaningfully convey the “truly” local difference at the Co-op to anyone who walks in our doors. But I haven’t yet. So, for now, the Co-op will define our version of “local” with honesty; using all our communication tools to consistently tell you where your food comes from.
Look for signs in the store that say “local” and “farm direct”. These are items we source from farmers and other producers from within a 40 mile radius. Growers and manufacturers we build relationships with actually deliver the products themselves. We like to get products from as close to home as possible, but many food, beverage, and wellness items are not currently available within our defined local area. So you will see “Oregon” and “Washington” signs throughout the store as well. While not exactly “local”, we’re very proud of carrying these unique items.
Why care about the Co-op’s definition of local? It’s the freshest and richest quality in terms of flavor and nutritional density. When food isn’t transported hundreds or thousands of miles this greatly cuts down on fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas. It’s pretty scary to think about food security, but it’s not just an issue that’s off in the distant future. The drought in California is causing agriculture shortages, resulting in food price increases; an example of why supporting the growth of farms in our area is important. We really like our farmers and other local producers, and want them to succeed with good jobs. We know how hard they work, sometimes for little to no return.
As the Co-op grows, our consumer-owners, shoppers, and board have all said that more local food should be a key element. In our fall survey, shoppers said supporting local, sustainable agriculture is the number one social issue the Co-op should champion. Our strategic plan reflects this stating in the next five years we will expand our capacity to buy and sell local food and products. And throughout that journey we will be explaining what our local is.