Opportunity grows right at home
DANUBE -- From the introduction of hybrid corn to value added processing, Renville County farmers have been in the lead. They might soon be leading the way to the next frontier: Producing a greater variety of foods for local markets. "We want to ...
DANUBE -- From the introduction of hybrid corn to value added processing, Renville County farmers have been in the lead.
They might soon be leading the way to the next frontier: Producing a greater variety of foods for local markets.
"We want to build a sustainable market here,'' said Chris Hettig, director of the Renville County Economic Development Authority. "We know it will work.''
Hettig made her remarks at the start of a conference held Friday in Danube on the prospects for raising and marketing locally grown food.
There is probably no better time for tapping the potential of producing goods for local food markets, according to Maggie Adamek, a senior analyst with the University of Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership, St. Paul.
"Everywhere you look in the U.S. right now, local foods are on a roll,'' said Adamek.
The number of Farmer's Markets in the country has grown from 1,800 in 1994 to more than 2,600 today. The number of community supported agriculture ventures, in which consumers buy directly from producers and share the risks, has more than quadrupled in the last 15 years.
There are lots of factors feeding the growing consumer demand for local produce, according to Adamek.
The growing consumer preference for organic foods -- which she said enjoys a 20 percent growth factor -- is also showing up as a choice to buy local.
Also working in favor of locally grown produce is the increasing fragmentation of the food market in the U.S., according to Adamek.
There are growing ethnic markets for specific meats and vegetables, such as goat and lamb or hot peppers. There are also growing markets for grass-fed beef and free-range poultry. These are all foods that are often best produced on a local scale.
But don't make the mistake of believing that local foods are only suited to niche markets. The big "drivers'' in consumer decision making often favors local foods as well, according to Adamek. Consumers make the most of their food choices for reasons of health, taste and pleasure, convenience, values and ethics and food safety. Locally produced foods score high in the minds of consumers on all of these measures.
And simply put, locally raised food has a "feel good'' advantage. "People want their small, intimate food systems back,'' she said.
A study by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation shows that local foods could grow to represent a 10 percent share of retail food sales in the next 10 years, according to Adamek.
But she cautioned that there are many challenges to overcome first. Local producers need to find ways to work together and aggregate their produce to assure a steady supply. They also need to develop local distribution and broker systems for the foods, she said.
System changes are needed on the receiving end too. Adamek said we need to bring back the "lunch ladies'' in our schools and retrofit institutional kitchens for handling local foods.
We also need more home economics education for our children, she said.
Big challenges, but Adamek said that the energy and creativity being applied to revitalize local food production has never been greater. "By hook and crook, people are duct taping this together,'' she said.