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Cool food ideas - November 17

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How the Farm-to-Table Movement Is Helping Grow the Economy

Bruce Schoenfeld, Entrepeneur
As the summer sun glints off a pyramid of scarlet-and-yellow Rainier cherries, at least one customer can't contain himself. "I know I can't buy yet, but can I sample?" he asks. It's Wednesday afternoon in July in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood, and the weekly farmers market--one of 40 in King County alone, up from nine a decade ago--is set to begin. Customers mass around the two blocks of stands, ogling bok choy and baby turnips, positioning themselves to get the ripest tomatoes. At 3 p.m., a bell rings to open the proceedings. Almost immediately, money flies across tables in flashes of green.

Think farm-to-table dining, and you may envision tree-hugging elitists rolling up to urban markets in expensive cars to fill cloth bags with expensive lettuce and free-range chicken. But look closer. The Columbia City customers are a disparate lot. Many are immigrants, going stall to stall to buy produce as they did at home. Others live in downtrodden neighborhoods nearby, one reason that this market has recently started accepting food stamps.

"A lot of people here don't fit the stereotype," says Lauren Keeler of Columbia City Bakery, which sells breads and cakes made just down the street. "It's not just some kind of yuppie thing. We get Asian immigrants, African immigrants, middle class, lower-middle class. It's amazingly diverse."

Locally sourced food is a big deal in Seattle, and the economic tendrils of the movement reach deeper than anyone might imagine. Throughout the city, in one ZIP code after the next, you'll find restaurants that have made local ingredients both a guiding principle and a marketing tool--from Local 360 in Belltown to emmer&rye ("seasonally inspired, locally derived") in Queen Anne to Wallingford's Tilth, which is named after the Oregon organization that certifies organic farms.

...Add it up and you have a profound economic impact. King County farmers markets alone, estimates indicate, gross $30 million annually, and that doesn't include ancillary revenue such as parking lots that surround the markets. Small farms are--forgive the metaphor--sprouting up throughout the area, ringing up annual sales ranging from $10,000 to more than $1 million. "We're talking about a huge section of the economy," says Richard Conlin, president of the Seattle City Council.

But that's Seattle, right? In much of the rest of the country, one might assume, farm-to-table is a niche within a niche, as offbeat and beyond-the-mainstream as vegan meatballs or homemade soap. In reality, though, it's big business almost everywhere...

...That's where we were when the locavore movement began in earnest a decade or so ago. These days, the average metropolitan area in America still grows or raises less than 2 percent of the food it consumes--and it consumes a lot of food, some $15 billion of it in northeast Ohio alone each year, including the breakfast cereals, fast-food burgers, bottled condiments, frozen pizzas and soft drinks that are the staples of many diets. That makes the economic arguments for farm-to-table food compelling. Moving the needle just 5 percent in Greater Cleveland would mean $750 million more in revenue for local purveyors.

The last time a $750 million business relocated to Cleveland was ... well, probably never. So it's easy to see why politicians and policymakers are excited about the possibilities. Recently, five entities combined resources to commission a study by local-business-development analyst Michael Shuman and his two partners on what would happen if northeast Ohio managed to produce 25 percent more of the food it consumed. The report calculated that such a shift would create more than 27,000 new jobs, increase annual regional output by $4.2 billion and grow tax revenue by more than $125 million. "Local food is fast becoming a powerful economic development strategy," it concludes...
(15 November 2011)
Very long significant article on the local food movement in the US. -KS


Pioneer sows new seeds for African agriculture

Stefanie Duckstein, Deutsche Welle
In a continent often ravaged by famine and drought, Olantunji Akomolafe wants to change things for the better. The Nigerian aims to start a revolution in African agriculture with some simple, sustainable ideas.

For many people it's nothing more than a tree but, for Olantunji Akomolafe, it represents the beginning of a revolution.

"I have planted this tree, right here," said the agricultural science graduate behind the Village Pioneer Project (VPP), referring to the large almond tree in a garden in Ajue, a small town in southern Nigeria. "Imagine if every family in Nigeria did that. Ten million families that would mean ten million trees. That is my approach to things."

But what, one might ask, is so special about this tree?

"There's nothing really special, except that it shows how self-sufficient we are," said Akomolafe. "It shows that the VPP is able to grow its own seeds, without relying on anyone else." Such an achievement typifies the project's philosophy...
(15 November 2011)


Cottage Food Laws on the Rise

Susie Wyshak, Civil Eats
In a Maine airport shop, I beeline for the local food souvenirs, my eye roving from a set of Stonewall Products over to several local blueberry jams. More than I expected, in fact. One comes from Out on a Limb, a small home jam-making operation that got started thanks to Maine’s cottage food law.

Today about 31 states have so called “cottage food laws,” allowing legal home-based food production on a small scale. The alternative is renting a commercial kitchen, which can cost $10 per hour, more often $25 or higher. Many of the laws passed recently thanks to grassroots efforts by bakers and jam makers eager to generate extra income, build a food community, control their cooking environments, and/or work at home. State guidelines differ, usually prohibiting riskier foods such as refrigerated items.

As a petition gathers momentum in California, along with a Facebook group, I took a look at the challenges and success of a few food entrepreneurs operating under cottage food laws in a time where local food reigns and career “Plan Bs” have become more like Plan A.

In most states, proponents have faced uphill battles. Two key objections tend to pop up:

It’s not fair to businesses that invest in commercial facilities.

As with the food truck versus restaurant battles, yes it’s more competition. I was thinking about a baker in Los Angeles who makes beautiful decorated cookies out of her bakery. If suddenly hundreds of home bakers could do the same without the overhead costs she might possibly need to drum up more commercial business to keep the bakery going.

But it’s also worth looking at the positive economic impact. Denay Davis, who runs a resource website for home bakers, believes “little food crafters are simply not a threat. It’s about sharing with other people, having control, and building relationships–not making a killing.” Etsy sellers exemplify typical cottage food law businesses, although many states only allow selling homemade goods locally, not online...

...It’s not safe and clean.

The laws generally require the same FDA Good Manufacturing Practices required by larger food businesses. Many call for ServSafe food safety certification, no pets, and defined cleaning procedures (see Arizona‘s law). “New Hampshire has a good model,” says Betz. “I have a dishwasher, clean water that is tested, and ServSafe certification.”

...Realizing the economics of starting my own food business didn’t add up, I agree getting started on a small scale at home makes sense while proving the market. Seeing an array of local jams at the airport rather than only brands you can find everywhere makes a place special and keeps the home fires burning.
(14 November 2011)

Editorial Notes: Photo credit: flickr/Iguanasan

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