A few posts back I extolled the virtues of the Winter Farmers Market hosted by New Leaf Market in Green Bay. In that post I tried to accurately name each of the vendors I had bought from so I contacted the Market organizers to make sure I was right. Along the line they put me in touch with Fred Depies who is the owner of Trust Local Foods, where I bought the wonderful rainbow trout.
There are any number of reasons you should buy local foods. It reduces the carbon load of our food supply. It supports a local community – economically, socially and spiritually. You might, and often do, meet some pretty nice people, like Fred Depies (more about Fred later).
There’s two problems, though, with trying to buy local foods.
One is finding it. Most foods in the grocery come from pretty far afield and what little might be locally produced isn’t labeled as such so you pretty much have to do a lot of homework to figure out what’s local. You can, and should, go to your local farmers market. It’s a pretty sure bet that what you’ll find there will be local (although not always). We’ve written about the big summer market in Green Bay before but that market ends in October and doesn’t start up again until June which leaves a lot of gap in between. You can, of course, drive around the country side looking for roadside signs like “Farm Fresh Eggs for Sale”, or “Honey for Sale”, or in the summer, self-serve stands with the standard produce like tomatoes, corn, peppers and apples for sale. But what if you were interested in beef, or gluten-free crackers, or trout, or goat’s milk yogurt? You could drive around a very long time and not encounter a road-side stand selling those.
That’s where Fred comes in. In 2004 he stopped at a farm with a sign at the road offering “Farm Fresh Eggs For Sale” and he started to think that it would be nice if there was a list of local farmer/producers that would steer you to the source of what you’re looking for. So, eight years ago Fred and his late wife Kathleen started putting together the Farm Fresh Atlas of Eastern Wisconsin. Note: Farm Fresh Atlas is a Registered Trademark of Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group, Inc and is used by Fred and other grassroots coalitions throughout Wisconsin with permission.
OK. That takes care of the first problem. The 2011 edition of the Atlas lists 70 farmers and producers in Northeastern Wisconsin with an array of products like; dairy, cheese, eggs, fruit, honey, meat/fish (including chicken, beef, pork, goat, turkey, bison, lamb, duck, goose, rabbit and elk), wine, flowers, jams, salsa, pickles, sunflower seed oil and, of course, vegetables. Copies are free by contacting Fred at <email@example.com> or by downloading from their website, although the 2011 edition is now out-of-date and the 2012 edition won’t be available until March.
But what about the second problem. How does the farmer/producer get their products to us, the consumers? Well, like where we started, they could put up a sign and hope you see it. They could build a little road-side stand and hope you drive by. They could rent a stall in their local farmers market. The problem with the first two options is that they largely depend on serendipity – the chance that you’ll drive by their farm (did you ever notice that many working farms are a little out of the way). The farmers market strategy means the farmer/producer has to get up in the middle of the night (if they even ever went to sleep) to prep and pack their products to haul to a market 20 miles or maybe 1-1/2 hours away to sit on a blacktop parking lot and hope to sell what they have brought. And many farmer/producers do that and seem to do well. But when they’re at the farmers market they’re not on their farm tending to the animals, of weeding the produce, or just having a second cup of coffee with their spouse. Not to mention the risk of bringing fragile or perishable foods to the market and hoping that it sells before it wilts or starts to thaw in the cooler.
Here’s where Fred comes in again. In November 2010 Fred started Trust Local Foods (TLF), a distribution company, as its mission statement says, “Delivering Locally and Organically Produced Foods from Trusted Sources to nourish communities through a conscious personal, social and economic commitment embracing these root principles.” It’s a small operation, just Fred, Erik, Sophie, Aaron and Katie in a small warehouse on the edge of Appleton. TLF tries to buy their products from producers in Northeastern Wisconsin but will go a bit farther afield (but not outside of Wisconsin) to get products they’d like to handle. Fred estimates that 80% of their roughly 650 products come from Northeastern Wisconsin. Their customers are primarily stores, restaurants, delis, institutions, buying clubs, coops and CSAs. Trust Local Foods also does a few farmers markets in winter, trying not to compete directly with the primary producers but to education the buying public so they’re aware of and interested in buying the local products that TLF distributes.
And that’s where I come in. When walking past the TLF booth at the Winter Market on January 14 (I literally walked past Fred’s booth on the way out with the vegs, chicken, jam and crackers I had bought from other vendors) I noticed something out of the corner of my eye – fresh fish! Yes, fresh, beautiful Rainbow Trout – boneless, no less. One of the producers TLF works with is Branch River Farms in Greenleaf who raise rainbow, brook and brown trout and Fred had brought a few packages of the rainbows along to the market. A bit of a risk because fresh fish is fragile and bringing too much could be expensive if it doesn’t sell (Fred later told me that he had to eat his mistakes the first two markets he went to because the trout didn’t sell as well as he had hoped).
And so the circle is closed, producer to distributor to consumer. Thanks Fred! Well done!