A Seat At The Locavore Table: How local revitalizes people, business, and the economy

Local food generated 11.7 billion in sales in 2014, according to a survey conducted by Packaged Facts. Farmers’ markets tripled in the past 15 years, now at almost 8.5 thousand, according to the USDA.

The locavore movement, defined as a diet consisting of locally grown or locally produced food, continues to have a significant impact, not just on food buying habits, but on our nation’s psyche.

A Demand For Better Food

People are attracted to local for several reasons. More transparency speaks to an increasingly health and environmentally conscious shopper. With more people aware of the long-range health effects of hormones, pesticides, processed food, sugars and additives, local brings them closer to the source. Big food companies are well aware of the shift; Hormel, Campbell Soup and General Mills are all acquiring and developing holistic and organic brands.

Local Beyond Land

Local isn’t about just about food and land. From farm-to-table restaurants to people gathering week after week at farmers markets, people coming together in a community are front and center of the movement. Here are two businesses that answer the call for cultural context in the local movement:

L’ocol addresses the elitist nature of the food movement by targeting disenfranchised communities. It’s the brainchild of two celebrity chefs rooted in local. One is Roi Cho who identifies strongly with his East LA roots as the child of immigrants and wrote a book called “L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food”. He’s also an early pioneer in the food truck movement. The other is Daniel Paterson whose prior projects have been described as ‘haute cuisine’ and ‘California Cuisine.’ L’ocol serves up low cost fast food that uses innovative healthy ingredients and provides culinary training and career opportunities for the underserved communities where they are being built, starting in Watts and now Oakland and onward across the country.

Amy’s Drive-Thru in Northern California is a fast food option very in sync with a local sensibility. With an all vegan menu, this fast food spot caters to a craving for taste and speed while taking responsibility for the environment and the community in the form of engaging local farmers, using environmentally sustainable practices like composting, solar power, and recycled building materials, also building rooftop gardens on the premises irrigated by collected rainwater.

Other businesses born of local need and local attitude that could be used as models for more sustainable local food businesses of the future include a Manhattan café and cooking school called Haven’s Kitchen. Haven’s Kitchen was born out of the idea that New Yorkers want to shop the farmers market and make the most of their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) but also live very busy hectic lives When they get home at 7pm, how are they going to face down a bushel of Rainbow Chard to feed themselves or their family when it’s much easier to order delivery or subscribe to Blue Apron or even just eat out? Haven’s Kitchen teaches customers how to cook simple meals using farm ingredients and sells locally produced goods. It’s a community solution for people who want to do right but don’t always have the time or know-how. Then there are companies like Bronx Hot Sauce, that make hot sauce from peppers plucked from community gardens.

National Companies Connect

The locavore movement creates entrepreneurs and boosts the local economy. Farmers and local producers connect directly to consumers. More people work from home or at a co-working space and engage with other local businesses online and off. Big businesses can find a place for themselves at the table.

Marriott has opened its doors to small businesses with a food and beverage incubator called CANVAS that engages local food startups and drives locals to their hotels for local food. This creates relevance for Marriot within its individual locations and supports the community. It also supports the growth of local makers taking the hotel chain from outsider status to insider status in a community.

Another example is grocery stores. Supermarkets like Whole Foods, COSTCO, and even privately owned regional brands like Piggly Wiggly (now individually owned) promote local food producers and traditional foods at individual locations. This ethos can be adopted by different industries from banks to real estate to big box retail. In all cases you can listen to the local culture and provide services or goods to invest in the local economy and nurture local relationships. The challenge is to serve the nuances of a local community by listening on the ground to cater to the unmet needs of a given community as well as answering to larger health trends.

Healthy Opportunity

From the fight for healthier school lunches and healthier packaged goods showing up in big box stores to the new spate of healthy options at fast casual whose sales were up to $384 million in 2014, 30 percent from the year before, and even fast food stalwarts like McDonalds healthier offering, the business opportunity to embrace local and embrace people effected in a local community by a failing industrial food system looms large.

In the end, “Local” is so much more than the locavore movement in food. It’s about focusing on community, the people around you, and the place you are in. It’s an antidote to fatigue from our wired global world. It’s driving health consciousness into the community, all kinds of community, in different ways. Locavore is evolving into helping the community get to good food –and get to each other. Local is a path forward to keeping business innovative and listening to the changing core beliefs in a quickly shifting culture that wants to empower itself, build more entrepreneurs, and finds itself no longer satisfied to take the industrial food system at its word.

Bio: Writer, film producer, content strategist for sustainable and innovative brands. Founder and Creative director of Show Love, social content for lovable companies. www.showloveworld.com, www.chaunceyzalkin.com

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