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Not Just Sprouting Up: Local Food Movement Ripens with Growth

July 19, 2011
By: Guest Editor, Farm Journal
Dan Nelson of DanJo Farms points to lettuce he grows for the farm’s CSA outside Moberly, Mo. Growing vegetables in hoop houses allows Nelson to continue the growing season into the winter months.  

The following story was written by University of Missouri students as part of the 2010 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Learn more.


By Eric Dundon and Amanda Bromwich

From afar, it looks like a caravan. Dozens of white tents shelter last night’s pickings of green beans, apples and squash from the whipping wind of mid-October. Children chase each other in an adjacent field. Fiddle music fills the air. Old friends meet in the walkway, chatting about the day’s finds.

All in the name of local food.

Jeanette Gieringer, a produce farmer from Saline County, knows this day well: Saturday at the Columbia Farmers’ Market. Last year (2010) marked the 30th year of the market. Over the past seven years, Gieringer has noticed an increase in customer interest in the market.

The Columbia Farmers’ Market serves as a prime example of how the local food movement has gained momentum in recent years. That momentum shows no sign of stalling, she said.

For decades, local foods took a backseat to other methods of food production, which was characterized more by convenience, less on the nutrition and taste of food. Mary Hendrickson, an associate professor of rural sociology at University of Missouri Extension, compared the attitude toward food to a television show.

"If you think about the Jetsons in the fifties and sixties, ‘oh, push a button, here’s our food," she said.

That instant meal mentality caught up to the food system in the 1980s and 1990s when food began losing taste, some experts said. For example, until the 1990s, producers bred red delicious apples for shipping in mass quantities. When consumers noticed the apples’ taste became compromised, producers began to breed other varieties more focused on taste, like the honeycrisp apple, Hendrickson said.

Taste is one reason Suzanne Spees bought produce from the Coyote Farm and Home Market in Ashland. Trust is another.

"Why wouldn’t I want to make a purchase from a family enterprise and a family endeavor? Why wouldn’t I want to do that, versus some non-descript, corporate conglomerate? Here’s a face," she said, pointing toward Joanne Nelson, the vendor. "Here’s a family. Here’s a pickle. Here’s dirt. It’s real."

Nelson echoed Spees’ sentiment.

"You know us, you can come up to the farm anytime, you can see us and talk to us instead of guessing," she said, sitting on the rear bumper of the van she uses to bring various DanJo Farms products to market.

The value of supporting local food is one reason Walmart released new "global sustainable agriculture goals." According to an Oct. 14 press release, Walmart will begin "selling $1 billion in food sources from 1 million small to medium farms."

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