Dot Benham, Co-op Produce Merchandiser, loves to talk about local and to share the Co-op’s “local commitment.” That commitment—our yearly pledge to vendors and consumers about our strong belief in local buying—is as follows:
- We will buy local produce over non-local produce whenever possible and market it as such.
- We will prioritize local products in terms of displaying and product maintenance.
- We will honestly communicate to the grower about product quality as necessary.
- We will maintain an open relationship with growers based on constructive communication between parties.
What is Local?
At the Co-op, we define local products as ones produced less than 100 miles from our stores. Because of regulations about the way local is defined differently in Vermont and New Hampshire, we often use the terms “local and regional products” or “Upper Valley grown.”
The Trend of Going Local
Over the past five to 10 years, issues such as food-safety concerns, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), poor-quality and adulterated foods sourced from outside the United States, and so on have made consumers much more concerned about where their food comes from. As a result, “buying local” has become important to consumers. This is a good thing.
Once again, cooperatives were ahead of the curve. Long before local was part of the marketing and positioning statements of big-box chain stores, food co-ops were touting the benefits of buying local.
We’re proud of the fact we were “local before local was cool.” We’re also proud of the fact that our standards for local are different than that of our chain-store competitors. Ask questions and you’ll learn that in some big-box stores, “local” suppliers can be hundreds of miles, or several states, away.