by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed
The Local Food Association (LFA) is the only national trade association for those in the business of local food. And it will stage its inaugural event, the LOCAL FOOD BUYERS EXCHANGE – Midwest, on Thursday, Nov. 6 at Hyatt Regency O’Hare in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.
FamilyFarmed, which publishes Good Food on Every Table, shares the Local Food Association’s goal of creating robust local and sustainable food clusters to build the business of Good Food. FamilyFarmed President Jim Slama will present a breakfast keynote address at the Exchange.
So we asked the Local Food Association to discuss the organization’s goals and what it hopes to achieve with its Nov. 6 event.
Q: What is the principle purpose of the LOCAL FOOD BUYERS EXCHANGE?
A: The LOCAL FOOD BUYERS EXCHANGE – Midwest is a day-long conference for local food business owners, managers and employees. It is focused exclusively on the development and implementation of local food business solutions and strengthening the local food business network in the upper Midwest.
The conference will include interactive education focused on six core business areas, along with some fun networking opportunities for local food buyers, sellers and supportive businesses. The LFA, as a business association, will glean best practices, collect information on challenges, and help position businesses to take full advantage of the experiences of others. Through strategic coordination of businesses around our common interests, we can increase our market share and improve access to sustainably produced food, thereby doing well by doing good.
Q: Your association suggests that professionals from food distribution businesses and those from potential buyers, such as grocery stores, restaurants, institutions, and hotels should attend the Exchange on Nov. 6. What should these attendees expect as their takeaways from the event?
A: Inspiration, practical solutions to common business challenges, and a stronger local food business network in the upper Midwest. It’s all about energizing local food businesses in the region. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear some of the most important and innovative voices in local food, and network and exchange ideas with other buyers and sellers. From regulatory and scalability concerns to marketing ideas and supply chain management, there will be plenty to inspire and challenge.
Q: Would you give our readers a brief history of the Local Food Association and tell us a bit about the organization’s goals and membership?
A: The Local Food Association works to increase market access and market share for both sellers and buyers of sustainably produced local food all across the United States. Our core members include local food sellers, buyers and other businesses that support the work of sellers and buyers.
LFA builds on the bedrock principles of supporting community-centered businesses, maintaining healthy relationships in commerce and nature, and increasing mindfulness in food purchasing. We provide businesses with best-practice exchange, continuing education and professional development, networking opportunities, public policy advocacy and political engagement.
The following are our statements of common principles for businesses engaged in local food commerce:
• Food should be sustainably produced with unwavering commitments to protection of water, land and human health.
• Food should promote the welfare of farm animals through provision of plentiful space and natural environments.
• Food should be produced from plant varieties and animal species with maximum human nutritional density.
• Food should come from independent producers and businesses through relationships that respect time-honored traditions of agriculture and food production.
• Food should provide energy value greater than energy invested in production and distribution.
• Food should come from fully transparent supply chains that make all food-related information easily known by end consumers.
• Food transactions should be firmly rooted in mutually beneficial relationships between sellers and buyers.
• Food should provide producers and consumers with a fair and reasonable return on their investment.
• Food should be produced by people paid equitable wages with fair benefits and respectful working conditions.
• Food should maximize positive economic effects within the communities where it is produced.
Q: The Local Food Association, like FamilyFarmed, is working to expand the supply chain for locally produced food. Why should this be a priority matter for general consumers, and what are the biggest obstacles we face in growing the supply of local food?
A: General consumers benefit from a vibrant food marketplace, where Good Food options are abundant and opportunities for local economic involvement are easy to find.
Growing the supply of local food is a complex task. Local food market viability depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is a fair and equitable regulatory environment. Food is a federally regulated business arena, and federal regulations are made largely by and for industrial-scale food producers, placing smaller-scale businesses at a significant competitive disadvantage. Regulatory reform is essential for increasing local food market strength.
Commodity farmers grow to commodity markets because these markets provide a safe and relatively reliable return, albeit from a monopolistic marketplace. Convincing mid-scale farmers of the viability of larger commercial local food markets is essential for increasing supply and making sustainably produced, local food more readily available. These professional farmers, provided they meet the demands of our marketplace, have the production capacity to put us on the path toward increased market access and more market share.
Another significant obstacle is found in the procurement practices of larger commercial markets, including grocery chains, institutional food service and food distributors. As business leaders, we are compelled to work with these markets to find mutually beneficial solutions for matching up a decentralized supply side with a highly centralized buyer market. The LFA is actively working with larger-scale food buyers to address these challenges in ways to provide a fair and reasonable return to both sellers and buyers.
Q: Could you briefly discuss the potential of the local food movement as a catalyst for economic development and job growth?
A: The local food movement holds unlimited potential for sustainable economic development and growth of good jobs. In fact, our economies were largely organized around food production and distribution for most of human history, for about 9,930 years, in fact. It’s only been during the last 70 years that we’ve seen this model disrupted by an industrialized, commodity-based, centralized food production and distribution system.
Returning to our roots through local food businesses, we can revitalize rural communities, provide healthy and nurturing employment opportunities in rural and urban areas, better care for our land and water resources, and have a healthier population. But it’s a long road back to the future.
Q: Chef Rick Bayless has won sustained praise for the regional Mexican cuisine he serves at his Chicago restaurants that include Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco, and he also has played a prominent role in promoting the use of local and sustainably produced ingredients. Tell us what it means to the Local Food Association to have attracted a figure such as Bayless to give the keynote speech at the Nov. 6 Exchange event?
A: Rick Bayless is one of the pioneers in business who made the strategic decision to return to our roots of local food systems. The strength of his reputation as a business innovator and leader is second to none in the greater Chicago area.
Having him serve as our keynote speaker is simultaneously a great honor for the LFA and a wholly appropriate way to honor the other strong business leaders who will gather with us on Nov. 6. We can only grow our market share and the strength of our businesses through collaborative action, learning from one another, sharing our successes and failures, inspiring one another. Rick Bayless is the ideal person to help us do just that.