I have so, so many things to say building up in me these days, guys. I have been so busy and tired that I haven’t been posting as often as I would like to. And today I really didn’t plan to write a post about the local food movement, but then Relay Foods posted this note on Facebook today, and I realized it had been quite some time since I wrote about them on the blog (I first mentioned them in January 2011 when we placed our first order). So I swapped around some posting plans to talk to you about the fact that we are still using them for groceries and why.
We live in Charlottesville, VA, which has recently been called the “locavore capital of the world” by Forbes. Both Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) spent considerable time in the area when writing their respective books about eating healthfully and responsibly. In a nutshell and totally in my own words, the locavore, or local food, movement is all about eating as large a percentage of your diet as possible from food sources near to you. Coming from a small farming community myself, this is an idea that comes naturally to me, one that I believe in for a number of reasons:
It’s better for you. Small farms may not be able to afford to get the “organic” certification on their produce, meat, and dairy products, but they also just naturally use a lot fewer pesticides, fungicides, hormones, etc. They don’t hire crop-dusters to dump obscene amounts of chemical on their fields; instead they spot-spray a small amount where it’s needed to address a specific problem or they try to use natural solutions because it’s even cheaper. Their cows and chickens and pigs are almost always kept humanely because they walk the border between product and pet (I always named all the new calves on my grandfather’s tiny cattle farm every spring). They’re just better for you, all around.
- It just tastes better, period. Anyone who grew up eating tomatoes from your own garden knows that the flavor of those mass-grown, picked early, shipped across the country and gassed to ripen tomatoes in the grocery store comes nowhere even remotely close to a fully ripened tomato from your backyard (or from the farm down the street). Ditto for homemade bread from real ingredients from your local bakery, or fresh-made pasta from the pasta shop down the street, or milk or cream or even eggs. No lie – really fresh eggs from happy, well-fed, non-hormone-treated chickens just taste better.
It’s better for the environment. Not only do small local farms generally use a lot fewer chemicals than the massive corporate farms, as mentioned above, but your food has hardly any travel time. Instead of eating chicken raised in Missouri and shipped to Virginia, you’re eating chicken grown 30 miles down the road. Fewer chemicals used, fewer fossil fuels expended to get the food to you.
- Buying locally keeps your money local, supporting small farms and businesses who can really use – and really appreciate – your money rather than enormous corporate farms and businesses that don’t really care about you or the product they sell you. Their attitude is that if they don’t get your money, they’ll get someone else’s. A local farmer or business owner, on the other hand, cares a lot about talking to and keeping his or her customers and values the relationships he or she forms with community members.
That covers health, taste, environmental, and financial reasons for buying locally. It’s a win all around. There are two downsides I can think of: cost and convenience. Buying locally often costs just a little bit more. Not always, but often, just because the business can’t take advantage of the cost savings that mass production yields. Personally, that’s a concession I’m willing to make. I will pay a little bit more – not a lot more, but a little more – for food that’s healthier, yummier, better for the environment, and financially supporting local businesses. That’s a personal choice, because we can afford to do that and not everyone can, but as long as we have the funds to buy locally, we will. Convenience is actually the more difficult issue for me: I do not have the time or the inclination to drive to 15 different local sources to obtain groceries for the week. Really luckily for us, we have access to Relay Foods, which allows us to shop for local foods from 61 vendors (as of the time of writing this post, anyway).
Relay’s sources include Whole Foods (obviously not a local business, but at least it is a large corporation dedicated to health and sustainability), a locally owned and operated grocery store called Reid’s (which does carry a number of corporate brands, but is at least a local business owner instead of Food Lion or Kroger or some other massive corporate grocery store), a local international foods grocery, a local natural foods store, and then about 55 local farms, bakeries, food shops, and food artisans. Our last order, from last week, for a week’s worth of groceries came from 7 different sources, including a local bakery, orchard, and dairy. I think Relay’s business model is amazing. I think their customer service is outstanding. And I definitely support the incredible convenience for me personally – we spend 15 minutes shopping online on a Wednesday night, and then on Thursday I spend about 10 minutes total to drive to the pick-up spot (on my way home from work), pick up my groceries, and drive back home.
So I strongly support the local food movement. And Relay Foods makes it really easy for me to do so. They currently operate only in Charlottesville and Richmond, but they’re meeting with people all over the country who are interested in expanding the model to their area. If you live in Cville or Richmond and are interested in trying Relay out, let me know – as an existing customer, I can send you a coupon code that will get you a few dollars off your first order. If you have any questions about them, let me know that too – after using them as our primary grocery source for 9 months now, I think I can probably answer most questions. And, more than anything, if you don’t live in Cville or Richmond (or don’t care to try Relay), still focus some effort on finding local sources for some of your food. Shop at farmer’s markets; support local stores over major corporate stores; grow your own food and keep your own chickens if you’re so inclined. It’s better in every way.
Please note: Relay Foods has not paid me a dime or given me anything for free to write this post. I just really, really like them and really, really believe in their business model.