LJWorld Green

More Lawrence residents turning to locally grown food

Farmers’ Market sees more visitors; Community Supported Agriculture more popular

Many producers and growers are up before dawn to make sure their goods are ready for sale at a typical Saturday Lawrence Farmers' Market. As it is for the rest of the country, buying locally grown food is an increasing trend in Lawrence.

August 5, 2008


Growing business

Farmers finding bigger profits by selling locally

Kevin Irick, who offers produce at the Downtown Lawrence Farmers' Market, looks over some of his hot house tomatoes.

Kevin Irick is all local. He lives local, grows local and sells local. And he's not alone. His approach to farming is part of a national movement that is hitting home for many Americans, including folks in the Lawrence area. More


Over the next month, LJWorld.com/green will explore the growing trend of eating only food that is grown and raised locally. We will visit producers, talk to the vendors and I'll even try the diet out for myself.

It's a concept that many of our grandparents lived by. As generations have moved farther away from food sources, the tie between what we eat and how it got to our plate has diminished.

In recent years, a revival has occurred.

A steady stream of books have been published with authors examining what they call "our national eating disorder" and taking on the challenge of eating foods grown closer to home.

Michael Pollan was one of the most prominent to address the subject of where our food comes from in "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Barbara Kingsolver (of Oprah's Book Club acclaim) chronicled her family's one-year attempt to nourish themselves largely from their garden in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. And a Canadian couple, Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, were among those who launched the 100-mile diet craze when they published a book about their year of consuming only food grown within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver home.

Web sites, cookbooks and even a new word, "locavore," have cropped up.

At the heart of the movement is concern over how far food has to travel before landing on our dinner table.

According to a 2001 study from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, produce travels an average distance of 1,556 miles.

For some, eating closer to home is appealing because it cuts back on the carbon emissions needed to transport food. Others like the idea of supporting and building connections with local farmers and growers.

Then there are supporters with a bigger picture in mind while shopping locally. They enjoy the notion of not buying into the global politics of food production and are comforted by the security of being able to eat from what is nearby.

And, of course, there is always the argument that local, fresh food tastes better.

A growing demand

A growing crowd in Lawrence is among the converted.

Locally there has been an increase in the number of consumers participating in programs where they sign up for a share of the farmer's harvest at the start of the season. More shoppers are coming to the downtown Farmers' Market and making demands at local grocery stores for local food.

"People have gotten pretty tired of white bread, corn syrup and cardboard tomatoes. And, I think that there has just been a growing awareness by a growing number of people in this country that they want a higher quality of food," said Paul Johnson, a farmer who is in northeast Kansas' Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance.

A community-supported agriculture program, the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance, drops off bags of locally grown produce to more than 300 families during the summer months. Before the start of the summer, customers of a CSA sign up and pay a deposit for a season's worth of produce.

Demand has never been as high as it is this year, Johnson said. All four of the CSA's drop-off sites are full.

For shoppers at The Community Mercantile, buying local food is the most important item on the list of criteria, produce manager Linda Cowden said. It's more important than if the food is organic, conventionally grown or not genetically modified.

"Often times it is the first choice," Cowden said. "We don't keep the local products that do come in very long."

The store has made some changes to ensure it continues to offer local foods. Nine years ago, farmers would show up at the back door with 10 pounds of zucchini ready to make a deal.

Now, Cowden meets with the farmers in the late winter and early spring right about the time the crops are ready to be planted. They talk about what they will be able to supply and what items were the most popular the year before.

The Merc has about 27 farmers within a 200-mile radius who supply the store. Many of these farmers have their picture and their farm's distance from the store posted next to the price of their produce.

Mercedes Taylor-Puckett said that Lawrence Farmers' Market isn't able to recruit enough producers to meet the demand for fresh, local food. The Farmers' Market, which was conceived in 1976 and is the oldest in the state, has grown every year.

Along with easing environmental concerns, Taylor-Puckett said shoppers like the nutrition, taste and variety.

"You don't get three types of tomatoes; you get 40 different varieties," Taylor-Puckett said.

Farmers come from between one and 40 miles away and sell everything from fresh eggs and honey to goat cheese and rabbit meat.

One of the reason there isn't more local produce, Taylor-Puckett said, is the labor involved.

"It takes a lot of labor to get everything at the Farmers' Market and a lot of people aren't willing to work that hard," she said.

Johnson also sees demand outpacing production. And, to keep up, farmers and the policy makers who regulate and subsidize them will have to make some major changes, Johnson said. Among them is switching fields from the Kansas staples of corn, wheat and soybean to vegetables and other specialty crops.

He hopes that change will come.

"The most important ballot (people) cast is how they spend their money and if they are looking for local growers, if they are looking for local meat suppliers that is the kind of building of critical mass that we need," Johnson said.


mom_of_three 9 years, 9 months ago

i think local grown food does taste better, except for the peppers i bought recently.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 9 months ago

Sigh. I don't have the time or energy today to dig up links, but I wish media outlets would stop blithely asserting, without supporting evidence, that increased consumption of local foods decreases carbon emissions, especially when there is strong evidence that, past a certain percentage of total consumption, carbon emissions are actually increased. I'm not stating the issue is settled one way or the other, but only that the issue is far more complex than the gut level, "that seems about right" thinking that passes for analysis.

pace 9 years, 9 months ago

Fear seems to be the driving reaction of certain wingnuts. Ohh buying local, slightly different than what we did yesterday, not that much different than yesteryear. Maybe this is bad, oh I am so scared. Local tomato, maybe it is a liberal conspiracy. ohh.

StirrrThePot 9 years, 9 months ago

  1. The fresh, local produce from your own garden or purchased at the farmer's market looks and tastes better than anything in the grocery store. Because it is so fresh it actually lasts longer, cooks up better, and preserves better.2. We bought apples from the store recently that came from Chile. Our peaches we got a couple of weeks ago, however, came from my inlaw's trees. They were hand picked and we drove them a mere 22 miles to our home. I have saved money on jam for the next month and have eaten delicious pies, fruit salads, and salsas. I have learned new ways to fix peaches and other home grown foods.3. I haven't had to pay for a bell pepper since 2006. At anywhere from 75 cents to $3 a pop, you do the math on that savings.Growing your own or buying local is very much worth it. My only regret is I didn't do it as much a few years ago (or at all 10 years ago) as I do now.

terri 9 years, 9 months ago

The Saturday market at 8th and New Hampshire is from 7 am to 11 am. Tuesdays and Thursdays, the market is at 10th & Vermont from 4 to 6 pm.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 9 months ago

"a) my scenario, as simple as it is, is far more complex than the one you set forth;"Really-- what about the 100 trucks carrying those 20,000 lbs of tomatoes the initial 16 miles to get it to the one big truck? What about the refrigeration required to keep those vegetables from spoiling before they get to market? Or the fact that the local farmers will likely attend to other business while they are in town for the market? Yes, it's a complicated equation, but any way you want to slice these tomatoes, the current agricultural system is just as much petroleum-based as it is solar. Localized organic methods haven't totally reversed that, but they go a long way.

jhawkjen 9 years, 9 months ago

The Merc's latest newsletter advertises the Eat Local Challenge, which is Sept 14-27. Check out the newsletter on the Merc's website at:http://www.communitymercantile.com/content/MercNews08Aug.pdf

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 9 months ago

Gosh, bozo, when you set up an artificial fact problem that in no way reflects real life conditions, it makes you feel pretty smart, right? I'll just throw this out for you: 20,000 pounds of tomatoes travelling 1,600 miles in a single truck vs. 20,000 pounds of tomatoes travelling 16 miles from local farms in 100 trucks.Did I just blow your mind?Again, these questions are out there. You just have to use your brain, instead of blithely swallowing what you're told. No rocket science there.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 9 months ago

Bozo--a) my scenario, as simple as it is, is far more complex than the one you set forth;b) my scenario was intended as a demonstration that the insertion of a single variable would expose your argument as lightweight and anti-intellectual;c) I've supported my contention; you've spewed dogma.Seriously, how do you distinguish yourself from people who say "I don't care what the science says. This winter was pretty mild. Ain't no global warming."?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 9 months ago

"Did I just blow your mind?"No, you merely simplified the equation to support your largely unsupported contention.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 9 months ago

I don't know why I used the word "blithely" again. But you get my point.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 9 months ago

And heck, here are a few links; can't find the studies themselves, but these will do:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/opinion/06mcwilliams.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=sloginhttp://news.mongabay.com/2008/0602-ucsc_liaw_food_miles.htmlIf you genuinely care about the environment -- and you wish to convince others to do so, too -- one would think that a wise course of action would be to actually determine what sort of things are actually beneficial to the environment, and to do those things. Again, not saying that there are not some merits to buying local, but it's certainly not categorically environmentally friendly.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 9 months ago

"Sigh. I don't have the time or energy today to dig up links, but I wish media outlets would stop blithely asserting, without supporting evidence, that increased consumption of local foods decreases carbon emissions,"Let's see, what would the carbon emissions be for a tomato that travels 1600 miles before you eat it, vs. one that travels five miles? No rocket science required to figure that one out, even without factoring in whether or not the one shipped in from afar was factory-farmed, which greatly increases carbon emissions, versus a local one that was organically grown, which greatly reduces carbon emissions, not to mention groundwater pollution.

Adrienne Sanders 9 years, 9 months ago

And to continue bozo's scenario, how about the truck(s) required to get those 20,000 lbs of tomatoes to the local stores? Also, have you tasted a fresh tomato, not one that was picked while green and put in a gas chamber to make it red and then shipped halfway around the country?Stirrthepot's got the best idea of all, grow your own.

terri 9 years, 9 months ago

Here is a link that also might be helpful for more information about the Farmers Markethttp://www.lawrencefarmersmarket.com/index.php

Richard Heckler 9 years, 9 months ago

Why local food?FreshnessSupports the local economyKnowing where the food comes from is a huge drawSome protection from mad cow diseaseProvides local employment thus local dollars in local institutions and increases local retail spendingPutting more local ground into local production due to energy expenses could be a healthy benefit.*Protection from disease concerns that typically occur in large corporate pork,beef,poultry settings. The Hen House stores in the KCMO/JOCO area have 1,300 customers signed on to subscriptions with growing interest. Far more successful than anticipated. Central Soy Food Tofu is realizing a substantial benefit from this effort thus Mo/Kan region organic soybean growers are feeling the economic growth as well.

terri 9 years, 9 months ago

FYITo receive the Farmer's Market outstanding newsletter, simply send an email to farmersmarket@sunflower.comThe newsletter provides current information about Vendors, product offerings, and other interesting and relevant events.

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