Reasons to Be Cheerful

By Analiese Paik

Karyn Leito (left) and Michelle Margo, co-founders of the Black Rock Farmers' Market. Launched in 2014, it was an instant success.
Karyn Leito (left) and Michelle Margo, co-founders of the Black Rock Farmers’ Market. Launched in 2014, it was an instant success.

One could easily despair over the slow pace of change in our nation’s food system, but I choose to put that aside at the holidays and celebrate all the important work being done at the grassroots level. There are many reasons to be cheerful.

Here in Fairfield County, CT we have more choices than ever to buy locally grown food, especially organic. The number of farms in our county grows each year, as does the number of farmers’ markets and services acting as efficient intermediaries between farmers and consumers. New, vertically integrated businesses are being launched that provide consumers with unique, value added products and services. My favorite is a chef friend who started a farm and a is building a production kitchen to make her exquisite, small-batch local, organic food. Two more exciting projects, one at the retail level and another in the co-packing/shared use commercial kitchen space are in the planning stages. If all goes well, we could choose to entirely opt out of the industrial food system (even the industrial organic food system) in a few short years. That’s one huge reason to be cheerful.

Fairfield County now boasts seven winter farmer's markets.
Fairfield County now boasts seven winter farmer’s markets.

I’ve done my share of eye rolling and  hand-wringing over the co-opting of the terms local, organic, artisan and farm-to-table by industrial food manufacturers. Can Domino’s really make an artisan pizza? Does Lays potato chips really source from family farmers, or vast monocultures? And does Philadelphia Cream Cheese’s “farm to fridge in six days” from local farms claim, where cows graze on pasture no less, ring true to  you? I stopped wringing my hands over co-opting and dilution and choose instead to focus on the fact that popularizing these terms could be advantageous to the local-sustainable food movement. In March, proof arrived that consumers are more aware than ever about where their food comes from and how it’s produced, and will pay more for local-sustainable food. Click here to download Cone Communications Food Issues Trend Tracker for a complete report. Or read an excellent synopsis and analysis here on Triple Pundit. I’m very cheerful about this trend. Consumer sentiment and behavior is moving in the right direction and big business will chase those dollars.

Food manufacturers from Ben & Jerry’s to Cheerios are removing GMOs from their products as reported by NPR in July. Consumers should revel in this news because it means the food industry hears our cries for transparency loud and clear. Rather than label, they’re opting out of GMOs and choosing to get their products Non-GMO Project Verified. In the case of Ben & Jerry’s, they have been very vocal advocates of labeling and have committed to sourcing GMO-free ingredients (except dairy which can be fed GMOs but does not contain synthetic growth hormones). Consumer advocacy does makes a difference. All the years we’ve spent advocating -nationally and at the state level – are now paying dividends. Even though no state GMO labeling laws are currently in effect, we’re getting some transparency anyway. A third reason to be cheerful.

There are many, many more positive developments in the local-sustainable food space. Please share your favorites in the comments below. Rather than list them all, I’m spending time with my family. Have a Merry Christmas.

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