Oct 29, 2012

Local Food All Year Long

Frequently on the blog, I talk about taking baby steps. If you are looking for your next baby step, here's a challenge for you: buy something this week from online farmers' market described below. Sam Hedges, from ALFN, gives us the skinny.   This is part II of what he started yesterday. - Julie

What is the Arkansas Local Food Network?  That’s a question we, the network, ask ourselves all the time.  Not because we have an identity crisis, but because we’ve always been an organization shaped by our community.  A better question to ask may be, “What do you think we are?”

Formerly the Arkansas Sustainability Network, ALFN is a non-profit committed to growing healthy food locally, through our farms, gardens, communities, businesses, the whole shebang.  We are small but strong in our community support and presence.  Over the years we’ve supported a number of initiatives.  A few more recent ones include our Community Fund (a small grant for community projects working on local food), the FRESH Local Food Directory (a community resource of Central Arkansas’ gardens, farms, markets, non-profits, and restaurants), and the Little Rock Local Food Tour (a walking-biking tour of Little Rock’s local food landscape).  The truth, however, is that our local food landscape is changing and growing all the time, and so are we.  

Year 'Round Online Farmers' Market
Our dearest project, our bread and butter, is the Local Food Club.  It’s an online farmers’ market in which you, a member, order local meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, herbs, cheese, jams, bread (and so on) on our locallygrown.net site, from Arkansas producers, and pick up the following Saturday or Monday at our headquarters in Christ Episcopal Church.  You pay when you pickup (in case a grower over predicts his or her harvest and fails to fulfill all his or her orders), and enjoy your products at home.  It’s that simple.

Online markets are a new and growing segment of the local food world, and they provide an interesting set of benefits for customers and growers.

Easy for Customers
First, as a customer, you have access to hundreds of locally grown products every week.  All you have to do is click your mouse and pickup a few days later, and you have total control over what you put in your grocery bag.  Your weekly meal plan can revolve around what is in season.  Not sure what to do with all the okra you ordered?  Check out the recipe page.  If you are unfamiliar with a grower, check out the grower page to learn more about them.

Great for Growers
For our growers, an online market is an opportunity to easily sell their products without the need for their physical presence or the risk of low sales.  Physical farmers’ markets are time-consuming for farmers, usually taking a whole day, and there’s no guarantee they’ll sell enough even to cover the cost of getting there.  Of course, on the flipside, you get to meet the people behind the produce at a physical market.  While our market is convenient, it lacks that level of meaningful encounter.  You do still get to know our growers over time, through the things you buy from them, and the events we hold.

I like to say that our Food Club is for the serious local eater.  By that I mean the person who stocks their kitchen week after week with locally grown fare, who’s changed the way they eat to reflect their values.

Which raises the question, Why eat locally?”

There are a multitude of answers, and the truth is that every person finds his or her own reason.  Let me share mine with you.  There are few things more fundamental than food.  The tradition of sharing a table and meal together is ancient.  If you want to connect deeply with the people around you, food is the best way.  Eating locally gives character and definition to the things that sustain you in a way that grocery stores will never be able to do.  Your relationships come to define your kitchen.  In a very real sense, I know my community because my food comes from my community.  That isn’t to say that local tomatoes are noticeably better than grocery tomatoes (though really, they are) or that Arkansas, pasture-raised pork is obviously the only way to go.  It’s just that eating locally is noticeably better than eating any other way.

Eating locally can be tough.  You have to accept limitations.  Seasonality, availability.  It takes patience, and you’ll have to force yourself to cook even when you don’t want to.  But these small annoyances get lost in the bigger tradeoff, of feeling connected, of feeling good about what you eat, of knowing the stories of your farmers and gardeners and neighbors.  And we, the Arkansas Local Food Network, are here to make that as easy for you as possible.  Step outside your door and see what’s growing!

-Sam Hedges
Arkansas Local Food Network

Live nearer to Conway?  Here's the market link there.
Live nearer to Russellville?  Click here.

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