The local food movement cannot be missed from small community development corporations to the national cheerleader of the local movement, BALLE. The local food movement has lofty, but very important goals that if accomplished have tremendous strengthening effects on the community. Here are four reasons:

1)      The multiplying factor.  The multiplying factor says that a dollar spent at a locally owned business recycles itself over and over again in the community creating economic opportunity and community development.

2)      Increase food stability in a community. By buying locally, you are strengthening food producers’ capacity to grow their business and reduce a community’s dependence on imports and exposure to fluctuation in prices.

3)      Reduce carbon footprint. The definition of local is not concrete, but typically refers to a 100 mile radius of a community. By sourcing a community’s food from a small radius, it relieves the burden of trucking or shipping food from across the country or across borders.

4)      Healthier families and individuals. We all know there’s a lot of crap in the food we buy from GMO to processed; it’s amazing when you read food labels what’s in there. Buying locally cuts a lot of the mystery out of the meals allowing families and individuals to eat more wholesome, natural foods.  Moreover, the time it takes to prep and eat food can create valuable family time that is scarce today.

OK so where do you buy all this wonderful local food? Well, there are niche grocery stores here and there like New Seasons in Portland and in.gredients in Austin, but across the country farmers’ markets are where you can buy good, local food.  Farmers’ markets are great, and have been a long standing tradition in many communities; however, in some communities, the market has been saturated. All the people who care about local food already shop at the market and the people who are either ignorant or apathetic towards local foods do not patronize the market.  In order for the local food movement to radically change the food buying behaviors in a community, the majority of residents must participate in farmers markets.  The traditional route of incentivizing people to come to farmers’ markets is to brand the market as a party – bring in a band, crafters, pop-up restaurants, etc. Those tactics have worked for the people who are already inclined to do their grocery shopping at a farmers’ market, but I think that setting up a “party” atmosphere weakens the case for the urgent need to change food buying and eating behaviors.  So here are some of my ideas on farmers’ markets can increase foot traffic and sales.

1)      Having shopping baskets available for shoppers to use. Baskets would make it much easier for shoppers to gather all of their items and transport them around the market.

2)      Provide shopping bags or have a vendor that sells reusable bags.  The ability to carry your groceries home impacts how much you will buy, if at all.

3)      Compare produce prices with traditional grocery stores’ prices. The notion that buying local is more expensive than buying local is not entirely true. Having price comparison signs above produce might ease the concerns of price sensitive shoppers and incentivize them to buy local.

4)      Prepare meals on-site. Meal preparation can be a burden to working families, so what if a farmers’ market had a volunteer-run vendor booth that prepares the just-bought produce into simple meals.

5)       Organize food with like produce. Instead of each farmer having separate stands, combine like produce to make the look of the market feel more like a traditional grocery store.  Produce stickers would indicate which produce belongs to which farmer.  Of course, this tactic might be more harmful to farmers but it might incentivize more buying. Seeing all your options in one place and choosing from those options has been customary in our shopping.

6)      Have the checkout at one place not at each individual farmers’ stand to appease to the convenience-oriented shopper.

7)      Have the farmers’ market in a grocery store’s parking lot/entrance to encourage buying local foods vs. imported produce. This would allow the shopper to do all of their shopping in one place. A step even further is to have the check-out line in the grocery store so there is only one check-out process.

I am aware that ideas 5-7 would probably create some logistical, political, and ideological nightmares.  But the problem is urgent and calls for bold action. Collaboratives all around the country, including Nourish Yamhill Valley in Yamhill County Oregon, are looking for innovative solutions to curb rising food insecurity, weakening local economies, and skyrocketing health problems.  Buying local food is just one piece of the puzzle.

What are some of your ideas to encourage shoppers to buy local food?  Is farmers’ markets the route to go or is influencing grocery chains? Do you know of farmers’ markets that are implementing new, innovative ideas?

P.S. Don’t know what a CSA box is? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Community members pay a subscription to receive in-season produce from their local farmer on a weekly basis.