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Last summer, Lori Bean and her mother spent hours and hours picking the fruit for her Georgia Jams. Already, she’s a victim of her own success: This year, to keep up with growing demand, she’s resolved to buy in bulk from local farmers—and to sell seasonally. When her 2012 Flavor of Georgia finalist, Summer Berries & Wine jam, is gone, it will be gone.In terms of growth, Emily Myers of Emily G’s Jam of Love is a step or two beyond Bean. This winter, for quality-control reasons, she switched from a co-packer that could work with whole fruit she was able to source locally to a larger facility, still in Georgia, that is less likely to work with local ingredients.“Quality is the most important. I have to have product. If I can get that locally than to me, that is amazing and I am thrilled," Myers says. “But we have to grow outside Atlanta, and I make no apologies. I can’t feed my family by making jam in my kitchen.”No one could blame a local business owner for thriving. The question for farmers market shoppers—and market managers—is, at what point does a company’s methods no longer match the expectations of the consumer?“They get so big and have so much demand that they change the way they’re doing things,” says Lauren Carey, market manager at Peachtree Road Farmers Market. “It’s a wonderful success story. It just means that they’re not appropriate for the farmers market anymore.”Many area farmers markets, including Peachtree Road, require vendors to meet certain standards. Many are “producer-only,” meaning a vendor can only sell what it makes. Others may require produce at farm stands to be grown within a certain mileage, or a certain percentage of ingredients in processed foods to come from local sources.Market managers, too, face economic pressures. Each farmers market competes—for both customers and vendors—with all other markets. A manager may look the other way when a food processor changes production methods that no longer meet the rules of the market.“I think that that’s the hardship, especially with so many small, struggling markets,” Carey says. “‘Do I change my values of being local, to attract something that might get customers in, so maybe they’ll get some kale to go with it?’ I think the questions the managers have to ask is, does that happen?”The local challengeBuying local ingredients for production, Myers says, is easier said than done. Often, the problem is reliability: If you plan to buy all your pears or tomatoes from one grower and the crop fails, then your business is put into instant jeopardy. Sometimes, the problem is competition or availability.When a business partnership collapsed, cheesemaker Robin Schick found herself in possession of a lot of cheese-making equipment and no goats’ milk. She went on to found her own creamery, CalyRoad, but securing a local source—really, any source—of goats’ milk to make her cheeses proved to be extremely difficult. Most goat-herders in Georgia are either already making their own cheese or are not set up to sell milk for human consumption. Out-of-state farmers need expensive certification to transport milk over state lines. To survive, she made two critical decisions. First, she started making cheeses from local cows milk, and second, she determined to make what goat cheeses she could from an out-of-state source of curd—otherwise known as chevre.“When we can, we buy loca
When an independent restaurant buys from local farmers, it sends an important message to the community about the quality and value of locally grown foods. But when large hotel companies start allowing—or even encouraging—their chefs to source locally, then you can be sure something big is happening.Such changes made on a corporate level represent a shift in companies’ attitudes, a significant revision of purchasing and accounting procedures, and a sea change in the dining preferences of their customers.