‘Locavore’ movement has shoppers thinking outside the Big Box
By Sara Cardine 04/14/2011
Sierra Madre resident Rosann Volmert knows the power of healthy eating. An osteopathic doctor with a practice in Montrose, Volmert incorporates the natural health benefits of whole foods into her treatment of patients. She recommends sauerkraut in broth to regulate acids in the stomach and says coconut oil can be a remedy for a number of health complaints.“Foods have different components in them for healing different things,” she says. “If you eat nutrient-dense foods, you don’t need to buy supplements and, ultimately, your medical costs will be lower.”
Shoppers can get nutrient-rich food anywhere produce, dairy and meat is sold, but today’s consumers may be more acutely attuned to the manner in which their food is being produced and distributed. This awareness has created a market for foods that are more economically and environmentally sustainable than what large chain stores may offer. This “locavore” movement has consumers looking beyond cost and convenience to question the wider impact of their individual food choices, including fair labor practices and the cost of transport.
In cities like Pasadena, shoppers have a number of places to go that support local markets and minimize the cost of transportation. The city’s farmers markets — in addition to outlets like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts, which give corporate-level business to somewhat local manufacturers — make it possible for Pasadenans to eat foods grown locally and, in some cases, to interact with the growers themselves.
In fact, one group of locals recently founded the Arroyo Food Co-op and is hoping to open a community market, created and operated by members, for shoppers in Pasadena, Altadena and beyond. This and other similar efforts are helping consumers learn more about what and how they eat.
“You can get really nutritious stuff from other areas of the country, but eating local, you get to know your farmer,” Volmert says of farmers markets and other local alternatives to large grocery chains. “It returns you to a spiritual connection to your food.”
One of those vendors is Adams Olive Ranch, an organic farm in Lindsay, about 40 miles due north of Bakersfield. This fifth-generation operation had its beginnings in 1907, when Alfred Adams Jr. decided to grow his father’s olive curing hobby into a business. Today, olives grown, cured and bottled at the Adams family’s 55-acre property are sold under several different labels, including Sunland and Raw Earth Organics.
At the Pasadena Farmers Market, Adams’ booth is lined with bottles of olives and olive oils for all tastes and budgets. Everything is certified organic and fresh from the fields, assures Alex Adams, a partner of the ranch whose duties include selling wares in markets not only in Pasadena but also Santa Monica and Long Beach.
“We have a very unique olive oil,” Adams says, adding that the ranch bottles fresh oil each week and offers a one-year freshness guarantee. “When people start to buy from us, they taste the difference.”
Over the past few years, business has declined in response to the recession and shrinking household budgets, Adams says. Organic, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil will cost more than the everyday store variety, but the cost is worth the quality you get, he adds.
Quality is slowly becoming more of a priority as American shoppers, especially in more progressive cities like Pasadena, opt for products that forsake packaging, pesticides and price breaks in favor of clean, fresh locally grown and procured produce that may cost a bit more.
That’s the case for Pasadena resident Patrick Reagan, who has been a longtime regular at local markets and food co-ops, where individuals take ownership in a store through fees or volunteerism in exchange for access to certain products or services.
In 2008, Reagan was dismayed at the closure of the city’s Wild Oats Market, a natural and organic food market that catered to conscientious consumers, and was fed up with having to shop at corporate food chains that bypassed community growers for cheap produce from other countries, like Mexico and Chile.
Reagan began to post in a Web forum about creating a food co-op in Pasadena, where consumers would pay a membership to receive discounts and special deals at a local market that concentrated on creating a local food movement by creating partnerships with area farmers and businesses.
“Co-ops have a philosophy that we need to tell consumers where their products are coming from and get them information so they can make the best choices,” Reagan said.
What began as an online forum discussion today has grown to 288 members in the community. Co-op members like Pasadena resident Brian Chiu are willing to volunteer to get the movement off the ground. “There is a good sampling of people here who already know what a co-op is,” Chiu says. “All it takes is people to start it and organize it.”
The group hopes to reach critical mass — membership of 500 people — and is well on its way, Reagan says. The Arroyo Food Co-op’s board of directors is currently trying to build membership and take care of business and licensing matters while eyeing potential locations for a storefront.
The decision to reduce your environmental footprint by eating locally grown produce that is pesticide-free and in season doesn’t have to be born from a radical upheaval of your natural habits and food choices. It can be as simple as making different choices as you shop throughout the week. Get familiar with vendors at your local farmers market, and get to know the growers. They will tell you more about where the food is grown and under what conditions and may be able to steer you to options that fit your personal ethos.
Look into co-ops trying to gain a foothold in your neighborhood, or look to nearby efforts in other cities. Co-op shoppers not only have a wider access to sustainable food choices, but they can often take advantage of classes and programs that focus on resiliency — a lessening of one’s dependence on commercial products and services. Get out in your community and find local businesses that are doing things you support, whether its free education and nutrition programs, starting sustainable fast-food joints or giving back to the neighborhoods where they do business, Reagan advises.
“If you do a little searching, you will find a lot of things,” he adds. “Not only is it good for the world — it’s also kinda cool.”