Buy Local? Yeah, Right

Buy Local? Yeah, Right

by: David Lester, General Manager

On my way back from a recent trip to central Iowa, I made a stop into a small town’s grocery store.  Their selection of natural products caught my eye, and I decided to see what dairy and grocery items they were carrying.  About a minute into my shopping experience, I heard an older woman’s voice behind me say, “Buy local? Yeah, right.”  It was one of those moments when you are in an unfamiliar area where no one could possibly know you.  Yet, the voice from behind sounded like it was directed at me.   I thought, should I turn around or just stand here?  Being familiar with the local foods movement I found it difficult to not immediately stand up for local producers I have come to know.  Then I realized that I happened to have on my Oneota Co-op t-shirt with the words “Buy Local” enblazoned on the back.  Undoubtedly, she was talking to me.  I turned around to find a woman casually shopping with her husband.  She continued, “You can’t buy anything local anymore, good luck with that.”  Wow.

I was faced with one of those moments where you really want to say something so incredibly well crafted and earth shattering that it would change this person’s life forever.  “Oh, I’m from Decorah,” I replied.  Like that was supposed to prove anything.  Sheesh.  During the ensuing five-minute conversation, I learned that this community used to have a vibrant local farmer scene, including a bustling local farmer’s market.  After our brief conversation, we both went our separate ways. I couldn’t help but ponder the changing definition of local and how happy I was to be heading home to Decorah.

What does local mean?  In 2007 a group of four women in San Francisco coined a new word, “locavore,” that later was named the New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year.  The group coined the word to challenge residents to eat food only grown or produced within a 100-mile radius.

I invite you to read the article “Hot on the Trail of Local Sales” by Nate Furler beginning on page 1.   His article describes the complexity of the word local, how our Co-op currently defines it and what we are doing with technology to track our local sales.

I have found that every co-op, every business, every college, every manufacturer and every individual has their own definition of what local means.  For me, the word really took on meaning when I was stopped by a customer shopping in our Co-op who wanted to know more about the hardneck garlic that we were selling.  I could only answer a couple of his questions and began to desperately look around for Betsy, our Produce Manager.  Betsy was nowhere in sight, however, I saw Eric Sessions in the store shopping.  I was happy to tell the customer that the grower of that hardneck garlic was in the next aisle over and I’m sure he would be glad to answer his questions.  After making their introduction, I went down to my office to do some work.  When I returned upstairs about 30 minutes later, I found Eric and the customer still engaged in a very deep discussion about growing this particular kind of garlic.  Eric later informed me that the customer’s wife came up to him and told Eric that he had made her husband’s day with all the information he gave him.  To me, that’s local.